Harry & The Hendersons. The Method of Matchstick Men
Listening to the seven piece Glasgow band Harry and The Hendersons is a bit like time travelling back to the early seventies when the bands had groovy clothes, long hair and were interested in Eastern mysticism. Taking elements of LA hipness (CSN&Y and such) and Notting Hill squats (Quintessence, East of Eden) they conjure up a fine pot pouri of sounds on their debut album. A string section introduces the opening number Transcendental Meditation with the band’s excellent harmonies well to the fore before the song settles into a guitar based groove with echoes of Dave Crosby’s work woven into it. Meanwhile Matchstick Men, the second song, is more baroque in its delivery, the harmonies again one of the main features here while the strings dance around a gritty guitar figure ending in a guitar/fiddle duel of sorts and the addition of flute to the fluttering freak folk of Chromophobia harks back to the seventies while also challenging the work of peers such as Trembling Bells. There’s even a five piece suite, Apollo’s Vision, which allows the band to wander hither and thither with willowy flute, Crosby like scatting and Tolkien imbued fantasy. There’s a wonderful moment in the segue between the sections, Medieval Weather Report and The Milkman, where they perform an audacious handbrake turn from prog folk to a Grateful Dead guitar noodle. Had this album been released on Vertigo or Deram back in ’72 it would be a collector’s item but it’s here and now and, having seen The Hendersons live, we can confirm that they can carry off this time travelling lark excellently on stage. Website
The Dead South. Illusion & Doubt
The Canadian four piece punky bluegrass outfit’s 2016 album gets a UK release to tie in with dates coming up in April. A frenetic collection of songs peopled with some ghastly characters knee deep in mud and blood and gore this is a tremendous listen. While songs such as Dead Dog Isle rattle along with a grim fury reminiscent of The Violent Femmes there are also numbers such as Smoochin’ In The Ditch and Time For Crawlin’ which are almost pure bluegrass while Miss Mary vamps along like a jug band on amphetamines (along with some particularly gruesome lyrics). There are some epic tales on show here. The Massacre of El Kuroke adds a Morricone touch to their sound with some sly slide guitar adding to this very cinematic song while Gunslinger’s Glory, the closing song, weaves between a bone rattling gallop and a woozy funereal waltz with strings adding a macabre touch. It’s all great fun with the band firing on all barrels and one suspects that these songs will fly from the stage with fire and fury. Website
Johnny Dowd. Twinkle Twinkle.
Johnny Dowd continues to eviscerate Americana on this wonderful collection of popular songs from the past which are chewed up and spat out by Dowd in his unmistakable style. The album opens with a manifesto of sorts on the updated Execute American Folklore (Again) and it’s hard not to express a chuckle when this Residents like caustic surge of electronica mutates into Dowd’s delivery of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We all know this lullaby but here it’s a bad dream vividly reimagined, more akin to Der Struwwelpeter than Disney with Anna Coogan’s operatic voice adding to the disquiet. Like a mad scientist let loose in a laboratory of steam punk synths Dowd plays all the instruments on the album; farts, parps, clangs and ominous hisses permeate the disc sounding like Krautrock meets the Clangers at times. Songs such as Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, Red River Valley and Tom Dooley are punched into submission. St. James Infirmary Blues is spoken like a beat poet suffering from a benzo famine and John The Revelator is full on biblical fury as the synthesized sounds beep and warble while there’s more biblical darkness on Job 17:11-17 with Dowd coming across like a Manson type prophesiser although the song morphs from its biblical origins into an electro funk invitation to a Friday night funky party. Dowd’s reworkings of these songs are bizarre and challenging but he’s continuing in the tradition of others, taking the songs and adding his own distinctive twist. I challenge anyone not to listen to his take on My Darling Clementine without a smile appearing. Website