Best albums of 2017

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This year has been a remarkable one for new music – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the greatest in the history of Say It With Garage Flowers, which launched in the summer of 2009.

Most of my favourite contemporary singer-songwriters and bands unleashed new albums in 2017 and I was lucky enough to interview several of them to find out the stories behind the songs.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to arrange an in-depth chat with the man whose album has made the top-spot in this year’s ‘Best Of’ list, although we did come very close to doing an interview a few weeks ago, but it got postponed at the last minute. I live in hope that we can rearrange it for next year – both of us dearly want it to happen…

In the meantime, I will have to be content with listening to his latest record, A Short History of Decay, which is my favourite album of 2017.

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The second solo record by John Murry – an American singer-songwriter who was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, but now lives in Kilkenny, Ireland –  A Short History of Decay is the follow-up to his 2012 masterpiece, The Graceless Age – one of the greatest records of the last few years.

Back in 2012, I said of The Graceless Age: ‘It’s a deeply personal work that deals with the darker side of life, including drug addiction, loss and loneliness –  it’s one of those records that’s meant to be listened to on headphones, alone, late at night, as it draws you in with its lush orchestration, gorgeous, spiralling melodies and twisted tales. Misery seldom sounded so sublime.’

Five years later, Murry finally released its successor. It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult. Since its release, he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney, of American Music Club, who had produced his first album.

Michael Timmins from Canadian alt-country act Cowboy Junkies came to Murry’s aid. He’d seen him supporting his band in Glasgow and was captivated by his performance – I’ve seen Murry play live 13 times and he is one of my favourite artists to watch in concert. His shows are intense and extremely powerful – you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always one hell of a ride. He is an extraordinary performer.

‘It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult – he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney’

Timmins and Murry talked about making an album together – Timmins wanted to capture the rawness of Murry’s songs – and the result is A Short History of Decay.

It was recorded over five days in Timmins’ Toronto studio with a band comprising of his brother Peter (Cowboy Junkies) on drums and Josh Finlayson  (Skydiggers, Gord Downie, Lee Harvey Osmond) on bass. John brought along Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues, Elvis Costello), whom he’d met in Ireland – she contributed backing vocals to the album.

Talking about the sessions, Timmins said: “I felt that it was important that John got out of his own way and that we set up a situation where he would just play and sing and the rest of us would just react, no second guessing, just react and capture the moment. It was a very inspired and inspiring week of playing and recording. Very intense. And I think we captured the raw essence of John’s writing and playing”. 

They certainly did – A Short History of Decay is looser and much more raw than its predecessor. The wonderful first single, Under A Darker Moon, has fuzzy, fucked-up guitars and punk-rock sensibilities, but, at its heart, is a killer indie-pop tune.

My favourite track on the album is Wrong Man. A dark, stripped-down, Springsteen-esque ballad that deals with the breakup of Murry’s marriage – “I’m the wrong man to ride shotgun on your murder mile” – it makes for uncomfortable listening, but is such a beautiful song, with a simple, sparse keyboard and guitar arrangement. 

A Short History of Decay has its fair share of gallows humour, too. Despite its title, One Day (You’ll Die) is one of the album’s lighter moments  – a weird, mutated, but very catchy, pop-reggae (!) groove, with a guitar solo that sounds like it’s been lifted from the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll instrumental Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny.

Similarly, Countess Lola’s Blues (All In This Together) is another song with an irresistible, sing-a-long melody, but when the dirty garage guitar comes in, it kicks ass. 

The album’s closing track is a stunning cover of What Jail Is Like by The Afghan Whigs. I will scratch my way out of your pen, just so that I can claw my way back into it again,” sings Murry, over psychedelic guitar sounds.

It’s great to have him back.

This year also saw the return of another Say It With Garage Flowers favourite. Back in 2014, miserablist duo Pete Fij (Adorable and Polak) and Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) released their debut album, Broken Heart Surgery, which topped my end of year poll.

2017 saw them follow it up with the brilliant We Are Millionaires – an album that I played to death this year. 

As I wrote back in the summer, ‘like its predecessor, it’s full of deadpan humour and dry wit. With influences including John Barry, The Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, and lyrical nods to movies The Third Man and The Birds, it’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary, downbeat, British, black and white kitchen sink-drama-meets spy-film – part Hancock, part Hitchcock – but this time around, there’s even some optimism.’

And while we’re on the subject of Lee Hazlewood, the legendary moustachioed maverick is a huge influence on Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee, whose third album, Broken Flowers, was another highlight of this year. 

His darkest record to date, it was written in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Nev’s rich, baritone voice is backed by lush, cinematic strings and the album moves from twilight country music to bluesy psych-rock and spacey, hypnotic grooves. First single, Open Eyes, sounded like Lee Hazlewood hanging out in Cafè del Mar.

Staying with Manchester melancholy, Morrissey came back in 2017 with Low In High School – his strongest album in years – but, sadly, the record was overshadowed by controversial comments he made in the press. Songs like the brassy, glam rock swagger of My Love, I’d Do Anything For You, the electro-tinged I Wish You Lonely and the epic Home Is A Question Mark would easily find their place in a list of his greatest tracks. 

Ex-Only Ones frontman Peter Perrett surprised everyone by releasing a superb solo album, How The West Was Won, which was loaded with wry songs in the vein of Dylan and Lou Reed.

Husband and wife country duo – and Say It With Garage Flowers regulars – My Darling Clementine – returned with the excellent Still Testifying. Their third album saw them building on the Southern soul sound that they explored on their 2013 record, The Reconciliation? More Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy, and with gospel leanings and luscious horn arrangements, it could’ve emerged from Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was actually made in Tooting, South London.

Another husband and wife duo who are no strangers to country music – The Rails – impressed me with their second album, Other People.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it was a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning

Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it had ‘psychedelic’ tinges and  ’60s organ –  it wasn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.

Gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan’s Gargoyle was also high up on my list of 2017 albums of the year. The latest in a long line of great releases by him, it continued to mine the seam of dark, brooding electronic rock he’s explored over his last few records. 

Singer-songwriter Richard Warren – who’s played guitar for Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers – returned with his latest album, Distentangled. It was less dark than some of his previous releases – more soulful and stripped-down – but still with a nod to the ’50s sounds of Sun Records, melancholy, late-night ballads in the vein of Nick Lowe, Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley, and twangy guitar instrumentals that could be soundtracks to arthouse films that don’t exist yet. 

A debut album that I fell in love with this year was This Short Sweet Life by Nottingham’s Torn Sail – coincidentally an act linked to Richard Warren, who played with them in a previous incarnation.

Written and produced by singer-songwriter Huw Costin, it was a haunting and gorgeous record –  sad, but also uplifting and spiritual – an intimate, late-night soundtrack for the lost and the lonely that reminded me of Jeff Buckley at times.

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Two of my favourite albums of 2017 weren’t actually from this year! Soul legend P.P. Arnold and Neil Young both released ‘lost’ long-players.

Arnold’s album The Turning Tide was a collection of songs from ’69 and ’70. Produced by Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, the album was aborted and remained unfinished. Thankfully the master tapes were finally located, the tracks were completed and the album was issued 47 years later. It’s a great collection of groovy soul-shakers – her blistering versions of Traffic’s Medicated Goo and The Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want are guaranteed floor-fillers – and tender ballads, like the lushly-orchestrated gospel song Bury Me Down By The River. 

Young’s intimate Hitchhiker – it’s just vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica – was recorded in a single night, in Malibu, California in 1976, but didn’t see the light of day until September this year. I’m so glad it did – it’s up there with his best work.

The dark and menacing title track is jaw-dropping – a staggeringly honest autobiographical tale, which sees Neil on a road trip with just his drug stash for company, before things take a turn for the worse and he ends up a paranoid wreck who has to escape from the L.A. rock ‘n’ roll scene and hole up in the countryside…

L.A. is the home of singer-songwriter Marlon Rabenreither, who, under the name Gold Star, released his excellent second album, Big Blue, this year, and, funnily enough, it often sounds like ’70s Neil Young, as well as early Ryan Adams. 

I’d like to say thanks to Alex Lipinski who invited me to his album launch at Pretty Green in London’s Carnaby Street in November this year – I loved his latest record, the raw and bluesy Alex, with its mix of Dylan and the La’s.

And finally, I must mention the UK label Sugarbush, which continues to put out great jangle-pop, power-pop and psych albums on vinyl – both new releases and re-issues. This year saw Scottish guitar band The Carousels, who are on Sugarbush, release their gorgeous second album, Sail Me Home, St.Clair, which was heavily indebted to the sound of the Byrds’ 1968 country-rock cult classic, Sweetheart of the Rodeo

I’m listening to it now, as I write this article and sail off into 2018… 

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2017 and a Spotify playlist to go with it:

1) John Murry – A Short History of Decay

2) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers We Are Millionaires

3) Morrissey – Low In High School

4) Mark Lanegan – Gargoyle

5) Nev CotteeBroken Flowers

6) My Darling Clementine Still Testifying

7) Torn Sail This Short Sweet Life

8) The Rails Other People

9) Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won

10) Neil Young – Hitchhiker 

11) PP Arnold The Turning Tide

12) Gold Star – Big Blue

13) Richard Warren Disentangled

14) The Carousels Sail Home, St. Clair

15) Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last

16) The Clientele – Music For The Age of Miracles

17) Ralegh Long – Upwards of Summer

18) Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

19) Mark Eitzel – Hey Mr Ferryman

20) Alex Lipinksi Alex

21) Little Barrie – Death Express

22) The National – Sleep Well Beast

23) Juanita Stein – America

24) Martin CarrNew Shapes of Life

25) The Dials – That Was The Future

26) Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat

27) Chris Hillman – Bidin’ My Time

28) Liam Gallagher – As You Were

29) William Matheny – Strange Constellations

30) Cotton Mather – Wild Kingdom

31) Matthew Sweet – Tomorrow Forever

32) Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders Scenery For Dreamers

33) The Jesus & Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

34) Duke Garwood – Garden of Ashes

35) Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution

36) Luke Tuchscherer Always Be True

37) Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom

38) Sophia Marshall – Bye Bye

39) Co-Pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

40) GospelBeacH Another Summer of Love

41) Bob Dylan – Triplicate

42) Papernut Cambridge – Cambridge Circus

43) Luna – A Sentimental Education

44) Steelism – Ism

45) The Len Price 3 – Kentish Longtails

46) Wesley Fuller – Inner City Dream

47) Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [UK version]

48) Alex Lowe – Rancho Diablo

49) The Blow Monkeys – The Wild River

50) Colman GotaFear The Summer

 

 

 

‘We didn’t want any fiddles or sailors on this album’

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Husband and wife folk-rock duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – are back. Their much-anticipated second album, Other People, is out on September 1.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it’s a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning. 

Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it has ‘psychedelic’ tinges and groovy ’60s organ – it’s an album of 10 self-penned songs and isn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.

The title track is a rallying call against those who are out for themselves, while Brick and Mortar is an angry protest song that laments the death of London – it’s part funeral march, part Kinks. 

The album feels like a record that’s about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

I took James [guitars, vocals, keyboards] and Kami [vocals and guitar] down the pub to find out more…

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Q & A

You recorded the new album in Nashville, at Room & Board Studio, with producer Ray Kennedy, who’s worked with acts including Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. Why did you decide to make the new album in Nashville?

James: It was because Ray was there – I just wanted to work with Ray. Nashville had no bearing or influence on the record in any way.

You haven’t made a ‘Nashville country album,’ have you?

James: It honestly had nothing to do with country – it was cheaper to make the record with Ray in Nashville than to fly him over to the UK. We didn’t see any of Nashville. We got there, we drove to a house where we were staying and then to the studio – and that’s what we did for about a week. It was bloody hard work.

Kami: It was quite stressful – we had a small budget and very little time.

Why did you want to work with Ray Kennedy?

James: We were struggling with whom we were going to get to produce it, as we wanted to do something different, and then he came to mind. One morning, I thought, ‘It would be great if Ray could do it’…

Ray had worked on a 1998 album called Domestic Blues by my friend Bap Kennedy – I spoke to Bap about him – and then Ray Davies also said that I should work with Ray. It all came together. Ray Kennedy is a genius…

And so is Ray Davies…

James: He is! Ray Kennedy had also worked on some of my favourite records, like Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues, which sounds heavy. We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky. We wanted this album to be more of a rock band approach – more of a psychedelic thing. Maybe ‘psychedelic’ is too much… we wanted a whittled-down approach, with two electric guitars, bass and keyboards. We didn’t want any fiddles on it…

Kami: Or sailors.

James: If you’re in Nashville, you’ve got to watch the fiddle because it then becomes a country fiddle…

There is a pedal steel guitar on the album…

James: Yes – Eric Heyward played on one track.

‘We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky – more of a rock band approach’

Can you tell me about the musicians you worked with on the new album? They weren’t Nashville guys, were they?

James: It’s funny – I knew we were going to get asked about the Nashville thing, but everyone that was involved – apart from Ray – wasn’t from Nashville. Cody Dickinson was on our first record – he’s the drummer in the North Mississippi Allstars and he lives in Memphis – he’s an old friend, so it was a no-brainer.

Jim Boquist [on bass] is another old friend of mine and he was in the first incarnation of Son Volt – he’s from Minneapolis. He has a punk-rock edge, ‘cos he used to hang out with The Replacements – he’s a good friend of Paul Westerberg’s. We had a different mix of people – from Memphis to Minneapolis is a huge world away and then there was us with the English folk thing…. we wanted to see what it would sound like.

Your first album was recorded in London with Edwyn Collins as producer. How was it working with Ray on this album? How did it compare?

James: It was as bonkers – they’re both as bonkers as each other.

Kami: It was a whole different substrata of bonkers…

James: They’re both in analogue mode – everything’s old and analogue…. This time [in Nashville], there were compressors that were used at MGM for Hank Williams and there were thousands of guitars – it was amazing.

Kami: You couldn’t let your gaze rest on anything for too long, because Ray would say, ‘Are you looking at that compressor? That’s the compressor that The Beatles used…’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album.

You’ve said that this record is a move away from the more traditional folk sound of your debut, but there’s still a folk feel to some of the tracks, particularly the opening song The Cally and the title track and first single, Other People…

JamesYes – that’s true.

Other People has a pretty, folk-pop melody, but, lyrically it’s quite an angry song, isn’t it?

James: (laughing) I keep hearing that from people – I didn’t mean it to be that angry!

The opening line is, ‘crazy people, money-grabbers, old religions and new regimes, back-stabbers, heart-breakers, psychopaths with evil schemes….’

It sounds to me like a comment on the state of the world – a rallying call against selfish people and those who are just using others to further their own means…

James: It started with me being pissed off about people who should get off their high horse. It’s when you walk down the street…

Kami: It’s that huge lack of social manners.

James: It seems to be everywhere now. It’s about the internet and all the other stuff – it’s this (he points to his mobile phone) all the time…

But the song feels like it’s about bigger issues…

James: It grew into that – it got angrier and angrier as we were writing it. It’s a selfish world… I get the feeling that everyone’s out for themselves – they should care about their fellow man a little more.

Kami: It’s a theme on which you can easily zoom in and out.

It’s got a gorgeous tune, though…

James: You’ve got to be able to whistle it – you can’t give it all away.

‘There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional’

It’s lighter than some of the other songs on the album, which I think is a very dark record, lyrically…

James: I guess it is.

It’s darker than the first album…

James: There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional.

Kami: I can’t remember the last time either of us wrote a particularly cheerful song.

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I think there are recurring themes on the record – the title track, Late Surrender, Leaving The Land and Brick and Mortar all seem to be songs about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

Kami: That’s a good way of summing it up.

There’s a line in the song Other People that seems to sum up the whole record for me – ‘we’re all strangers in our own time.’ Have the songs been shaped by current political and social issues?

Kami: Yes – absolutely. A lot of the album was written at a time when we were going to have to move out of London because we couldn’t afford to buy somewhere to live, so that was playing on our minds. And also maybe it’s the age we are – I think that plays a part. The song Leaving The Land was written about thinking we would have to leave London.

The album’s opening song, The Cally, is one of the more folky songs on the record. It’s about the characters who lived and worked on Caledonian Road in North London and it also mentions Pentonville Prison.

You like a prison song, don’t you? You had two on your first album – Send Her To Holloway and Borstal…

James: We love a prison song!

What was the inspiration for The Cally?

James: It was all down to my granddad, whose flat we’re now living in. He died a couple of years ago – he was 92. One day, we were in the kitchen and he was talking to me about when he lived and grew up around ‘The Cally’ and Almeida Street in Islington.

He liked to talk about the old days – he was telling me about a woman called ‘Woodbine Nellie’ who used to ‘work’ on the street. She was a lady of the night and I thought, ‘that’s a good name’.

I was walking down Caledonian Road one day and I started humming a song and I wrote it when I got home – I did it really quickly.

After The Cally, the next song on the record is Late Surrender. James – musically, it reminds me of some of the tracks you’ve played on with Pete Bruntnell…  [James has been a guitarist for several acts, including UK singer-songwriter Pete Bruntnell, Ray Davies, Son Volt, The Pernice Brothers, The Pogues and The Pretenders – he’s in the current Pretenders line-up]

It has a kind of Americana feel and jangly guitars…

James: Yes – it’s more rock. I can’t stand the term ‘Americana’ – I’ve never liked it.

Kami: I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On are both melancholy songs – the former has a country feel to it, which is down to the pedal steel guitar.Was that a little bit of Nashville rubbing off on you?

James: It was – we thought we’d better give it a nod and Eric [Heyward] was in town. He’d been up all night, drinking moonshine with Tony Joe White’s drummer and they both rolled in… but he played amazing. He’s one of the best – a pedal steel stylist. No one else sounds like that guy.

Drowned In Blue has some psychedelic moments on it, too…

James: Exactly. We wanted to do what Ray Kennedy had done on those Steve Earle records – suddenly go from country to a Beatles thing. It’s like ‘what the fuck?’ It’s different from the folk thing. I wanted him to do his thing and put his stamp on it.

Kami: With our first album, we set out to make a folk-rock record with a ‘70s vibe, but an updated version of it. The first record was more of a concept – we had an idea and we worked towards making that happen. We wrote a few songs for it that were in that vein and we arranged some traditional songs in that style. With the new album, we wanted to make a heavier record – it felt more natural to us and it’s more of a reflection of the things that we like to listen to. We don’t listen to any folk music.

‘I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly’

So do you feel like you’ve been tarred with the folk brush?

James: Not now, because we’ve got the new album…

Is folk a dirty word?

Kami: Not at all… I just hate anything that hasn’t got balls – I like things to have a bit of grit.

James: That’s what it’s about. It doesn’t matter whether it’s folk, or rock… we just wanted to make some great songs that had some grit. We wanted to sound heavier and for it to be electrified.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On both seem to share a common theme – they’re songs about people who are at the end of their tether… maybe even suicidal…

Kami: James is regularly at the end of his tether!

James: That’s how I feel constantly! It’s funny talking about the themes of the songs because I hadn’t given it that much thought – I didn’t think about how dark it was. You’re right.

Kami: James is more the homicidal side of our marriage – I’m more suicidal! We should get some-T shirts made…

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We’re talking about how dark the album is – there’s actually a song on it called Dark Times. It’s about an abusive relationship…

James: Yes – it’s another abusive relationship song. It’s meant to be like one of those old ‘60s songs – a Dan Penn-type song. It’s Dann Penn-lite.

And it ends with some groovy ‘60s organ….

James: Organs are hip! It was meant to be like Cream doing a folk song.

Brick and Mortar is my favourite song on the album.

Kami: Mine, too.

It deals with how old London is being torn down by greedy property developers and it laments what’s happened to some of the old pubs, areas like Soho and famous places like Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley…

Kami: It’s the rich taking over the world…

It’s a song about the death of London and, appropriately, it’s a kind of funeral march…

James: It really is – a very fast one.

And it reminds me of The Kinks….

James: It is a bit Kinks-y, but it started out as slow and acoustic – like something from Oliver.

Brick and Mortar is a protest song – in fact several of the songs on the album could be seen as ‘protest songs’, couldn’t they?

Kami: I think the whole album is a rant!

James: It does feel like more of a rant…

Let’s talk about your songwriting process? Do you write together or separately?

Kami: For the most part, we write separately, but James will finish a middle eight or a chorus for me and I’ll write some lyrics for him – or vice versa. We tend to each have written most of the song before the other person gets involved.

James: The songs are mostly written – it’s just tweaking.

Kami: There’s only one of my songs on the new album – Leaving The Land. James had written loads and by the time I went to put my songs into the ring, they weren’t really in the same vein.

James: I wrote furiously for a long time…

‘I think the whole album is a rant!’

What music are you listening to at the moment?

James: I like the new albums by Jason Isbell and Randy Newman. The Randy Newman album is called Dark Matter and it’s bonkers – I listened to it in the bath last night. It’s pushing the boundaries – it’s mental. I’ve been listening to the Elvis album A Boy From Tupelo – it’s his early recordings re-mastered.

Kami: I’m having a funny couple of weeks. Do you ever get those weeks when you’re allergic to music? Nothing’s right.

The other day I went through every record that I thought I might want to listen to and I ended up listening to Radio 4. Maybe it’s because we’re gearing up to tour and I’m learning songs. I think my brain’s full.

Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?

James: That’s an interesting question. A lot of them are dead!

Kami: A palate cleanser for myself would be a non-collaboration – just to quietly do my own thing.

James: I think that’s true for both of us – I think I’m going to do it as well.

What are the pros and cons of being a married couple in a band? Is it hard?

James: Yes – you never want to do any work!

Kami: It’s very difficult to carve out time to work.

James: We have real arguments about it– we’ve got very different views on music and everything….

Kami: Music is all James does, but I go into a non-music mode between records – I sometimes have to switch that mode back on.

James: This year I haven’t stopped working – we’ve done the album, the rest of the year is solid and we’ve got stuff lined up for next year – we’re doing another Rails tour and there’s Pretenders stuff on the go. I’ve written a few songs with Chrissie Hynde and there’s a Pretenders live album coming out in a couple of months.

You’re heading out on a nine-day UK tour in September and then you’re supporting The Pretenders after that. What can we expect?

Kami: It’s stripped down – a four-piece band.

James: It’s two electric guitars, bass and drums.

James – you’ll be playing guitar in The Pretenders, too. How do you feel about supporting yourself on tour?

James: It’s not ideal… It will be a long time, but we needed to do it. Chrissie Hynde loves us – thank God – and she’s very vocal about us.

Kami: It will be like when A Mighty Wind opened up for Spinal Tap!

James: I might have a costume change…

So what’s a typical Rails tour like? Is it rock and roll?

James: Rock and roll? There aren’t many tours that are rock and roll anymore…

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Other People – the new album by The Rails – is released on September 1 on Sony / Red Essential.

The Rails are touring the UK in September:

September 11 – Glasgow, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

Tues 12  – Leicester, The Musician
Tue 13 – Hull, The Adelphi
Thurs 14 – Hedben Bridge, The Trades Club
Fri 15 – Manchester, The Deaf Institute
Mon 18 – Cambridge, Junction 2
Tues 19 – Norwich, Arts Centre
Wed 20 – London,  The Borderline
Thurs 21 – Newbury, Arlington Arts Centre

http://www.therailsofficial.com/

 

 

Best Albums of 2014

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This year’s Say It With Garage Flowers number one album can be easily filed alongside Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker as one of the greatest breakup records of all time.

Broken Heart Surgery by singer-songwriter Pete Fijalkowski (Adorable and Polak) and guitarist Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) is intimate and stripped-down, with nods to Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, John Barry and The Velvet Underground. A raw, deeply personal, melancholy album, it documents the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath, but is shot through with plenty of gallows humour and deadpan wit. 

On the record, there are several lyrical references to material possessions – leaving them behind, or being saddled with someone’s else’s old stuff. There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved, but also a lot of physical baggage, too… There are some brilliant lyrics on the album – some of which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. For example, “Hope – it’s more addictive than coke. Yeah – it’s cupid’s cruel joke…” (Betty Ford) and  “[she] just left me with cutlery and a whole pile of her duff CDs…” (Queen of Stuff).

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When I spoke to Pete earlier this year, he told me: “I wanted the album to reflect the various aspects of a breakup, so while some of the subject matters are taking place more in the head, there are others that have a very physical location and an obsession with small details – the division of objects between a couple (Breaking Up), the forgotten objects left behind in a now half-empty flat (Queen of Stuff) or the changing soundtrack to a couple’s life as their relationship deteriorates – from furtive whispers and kisses, to slamming doors and uneasy silences (Sound of Love).”

Asked what he wanted to achieve with the album, Pete said: “First and foremost, I wanted to make an album that I was proud of.”

Rest assured, he can hold his head up high – it’s a stone cold classic.

While we’re on the subject of masters in melancholy, Morrissey made a welcome return this year with World Peace Is None Of Your Business – his first album in five years. His best long-player since 1994’s Vauxhall & I, it was a glorious comeback record, with epic ballads (I’m Not A Man, Mountjoy), unabashed pop songs (Staircase At The University, Kiss Me A Lot, The Bullfighter Dies ) and lavish, exotic arrangements, including mariachi brass, strings and flamenco guitar.

Alas, due to a dispute with his record label, Harvest, the album is currently not available on Spotify or iTunes, so, instead, here’s a YouTube clip of the mighty Staircase At The University…

Other notable 2014 albums included Fair Warning by folk-rockers The Rails; Charade – the debut album from LA-based country singer Meg Olsen; A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye by San Fran garage-psychers Cool Ghouls ; Phantom Radio by the Mark Lanegan Band, which explored dark, electronic territory; The Breaks by former Boo Radley Martin Carr – gorgeous, lush guitar pop – and Alexandria by alt. country artist Chris Mills, which was his first album in five years and saw him team up with a new backing band – The Distant Stars.

Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt impressed with his solo album Hendra, which featured former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler on a poignant set of songs that, at times, recalled the legendary John Martyn, while Cherry Ghost’s latest record, Herd Runners, was a soundtrack for the lost and lonely, similar to Richard Hawley’s late night laments…

Chris Mills

Chris Mills

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention News From Nowhere – the ‘long-lost’ debut by ’90s Britpop band Speedy. Recorded in 1997, the album finally saw the light of day earlier this year and was well worth the wait. The band even reformed and played live for the occasion. 

I  played a small part in getting the album released – a 2009 blog I wrote about the record attracted some interest and one thing led to another…

Here’s a list of my favourite 30 albums of 2014 and a Spotify playlist to go with it. 

1) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery

2) Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business

3) The Rails – Fair Warning

4) Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio

5) Martin Carr – The Breaks

6) The New Mendicants – Into The Lime

7) Chris Mills & The Distant Stars – Alexandria

8) Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners

9) Ben Watt – Hendra

10) Meg Olsen – Charade

11) Johnny Marr – Playland

12) Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye

13) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

14) The Delines – Colfax Avenue

15) Beck – Morning Phase

16) Speedy – News From Nowhere

17) Temples – Sun Structures

18) Cleaners From Venus – Return To Bohemia

19Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

20) Kings of The South Seas – Kings of The South Seas

21) Gallon Drunk – The Soul of the Hour

22) Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows

23) Little Barrie – Shadow

24) Tweedy – Sukirae

25) The Autumn Defense – Fifth

26) Neville Skelly – Carousel

27) Johnny Aries – Unbloomed

28) Pete Molinari – Theosophy

29) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

30) Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything