Dropkick. Longwave. Pretty Olivia/Sound Asleep Records

a0612184924_2Never mind the clocks going forward, the arrival of a new Dropkick album surely heralds that summer is a coming. Always a band of a sunny disposition, Dropkick are so popular in Spain these days that it’s surprising the disc doesn’t come with a tube of sun cream but it is being jointly released via Spanish label Pretty Olivia Records although it was recorded in the band’s Edinburgh studio.

Andrew Taylor remains front and centre here as he has done over the course of 14 albums and his song writing is as melodic and snappy as ever. Over the years the remainder of the band has seen several changes and Longwave sees Edinburgh’s Al Shields (here given his Sunday name, Alan) take on bass guitar duties. The songs continue in the vein of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star among others but Taylor adds enough sonic variety and twists and turns to remind one that this is a Dropkick album with his wispy voice the lynchpin while the band’s harmonies are just glorious. There are several straight ahead power pop crackers on show here starting off with the corkscrew jangle of guitars on the opening number, Out of Tune, the jolly romp of All I Understand and the crunchy Fed Up which has a slight Velvet Underground grind while the outro is decidedly Chilton like. Pedal steel (courtesy of Tim Davidson) is used to fine effect on the sunny pastoral reverie which is Blue Skies and the delicate piano led ballad Faraway Places while Giving Way opens with a burbling synthesiser before a walloping bass line and chunky guitar chords drive the song forward before a warm fuzzy guitar solo buzzes in and the song descends (ascends actually) into a closing stramash of backwards sounds, guitar and synth.

There are some clouds obscuring the sunny side of life at times with I Thought I Was OK a wistful portrait of a pessimist, a theme continued on It’s Still Raining although here it’s bolstered with a sparkling delivery. See You There positively drips with melancholy and the chiming Even When You’re Gone hides the sadness in the lyrics with some fine George Harrison like guitar licks. Taylor addresses the seasons and the advent of winter on the tender acoustic closing song, Turning Of The Tide. A lovely little number which recalls McCartney’s acoustic contributions to latter day Beatles it ultimately ends on a note of optimism.  So, another Dropkick album and hence, another cause for celebration, embrace them before they decamp to Spain forever.

Dropkick are playing this weekend at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint and Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s. The Glasgow show is sold out but they are also doing in store appearances at Love Records and Assai Records each day. They return to Scotland for several shows later in April, all dates here.

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Dropkick. Balance The Light. Rock Indiana Records/Sound Asleep Records

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It’s hard to believe that Balance The Light is Dropkick’s 14th album. The East Coast Scots certainly don’t sound (or look) like grizzled veterans of the rock’n’roll world while the album is as fresh as a daisy and brimming with energy. Over the course of 16 years they’ve gathered a well deserved reputation as purveyors of power pop and sunny jangled country tinged rock, an idiom that we rain sodden Scots seem to do well in (see Teenage Fanclub, Daniel Wylie, Attic Lights) while they are, to paraphrase Tom Waits, “big in Spain.” Their 2013 album, Homeward, saw the band, by then a five piece, expand their horizons with more keyboards in the mix, an occasional melancholic air and some tantalising glimpses of an almost psychedelic buzz. Balance The Light continues in this vein. There’s still a jangle in their stride but as befits a band with older heads on their shoulders that stride is more paced and measured, pausing to reflect.

Having said that Dropkick are still adventurous and this is evident on the opening song here, Save Myself. The song opens with a hazy shimmer, a guitar charged slow beat, the vocals delicate, almost strained although the harmonies remain in place. Halfway through a synthesised noise begins to beep and flutter as if the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop had popped in and the band step up the pace as the song reaches a crescendo in a thrash of sounds. It’s an exhilarating opener which recalls the more experimental side of Wilco and the sonic wizardry of Todd Rungren. It’s the most way out number here but its layers of sound are reflected throughout the album. I Wish I Knew shape shifts between Beatles like guitar harmonics and swelling organ notes with a fine McGuinn type guitar solo at its centre. Wake Me In The Morning is a gossamer thin confection which sits atop a repetitive synth sound, gradually replaced by stately piano chords and burnished guitar before returning at the end of the song.

Elsewhere the band continue with the groove they hit on Homeward. There’s a Neil Young kick on the closing Think For Yourself and Out Of Love Again flows along like a meeting of The Only Ones and The Byrds while they actually offer a song called Homeward which is suffused with the vulnerability of Alex Chilton and the chug along country soul of Neil Young. Here the guitars curl and the organ sweeps the rhythm along as Andrew Taylor sings like a lost soul. Again much of the words on the album continue in the vein of its predecessor, Taylor trying to salvage relationships, most nakedly expressed here on the gentle A Long Way To Go.

Despite the above litany of influences there’s no doubt that Dropkick have a sound of their own. They have a heftier take these days on their sunshine sound, the guitars more muscular, the backdrop more ornate. Before The Light sees Andrew Taylor’s brother, Alistair, leaving the fold (although he mastered the album). There’s a continuity of sorts however as he was replaced by Roy Taylor (no relation), returning to the band after a five year hiatus.

The album is released on 25th March. If you pre purchase it here you can get an additional three unreleased songs. The band are playing some shows in support of the album release including dates in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee in April. Dates here

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Best of 2014

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There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

Dropkick. Homeward

It’s always nice when an old friend , someone you haven’t seen for a while, turns up and reminds you of why you’re friends in the first place. And so it is with Lothian’s Dropkick who have handed in Homeward after a two year absence. Proudly flagging a quote from The Scotsman that proclaims them Scotland’s third best band (sadly a search didn’t come up with the winner and runner up) the Taylor brother’s band are back to a five piece with Ian Grier still on keyboards and Scott Tobin( bass) and Mike Foy (drums) coming on board for what is their 12th album, perhaps giving them first place in Scotland’s most prolific band lists. While the band have released albums on Spanish and Swedish labels over the past few years they return here to their bespoke label, Taylored Records for what might amount to be their most accomplished effort to date, an album that is polished and proud outgrowing their various influences which have dotted previous album reviews.

Often compared with the likes of The Jayhawks, Wilco, Teenage Fanclub and The Pernice Brothers, Dropkick still drink from the same cup and to my mind have added some of the sonic adventures of The Boo Radleys’ Giant Steps to the mix while Andrew Taylor’s ventures into production (The Wynntown Marshals’ Long Haul) has paid dividends. The result is a multi layered collection of pure pop songs that range from pedal steel laced ballads to more baroque opuses with sumptuous keyboards and occasional studio effects.

Throughout the album the vocal harmonies are polished to a sheen but it’s the arrangements and embellishments that reel you in. Come Home opens the album with simple strummed guitars and an east coast lilt in the vocals but pretty soon a honeyed pedal steel creeps in taking one back to sun dappled Topanga Canyon Days. The discordant start and waspish synths of When It Starts however clouds this paradise before the dizzy and claustrophobic guitar buzz of Halfway Round Again, again augmented by fizzy synth along with a Strawberry Fields like coda, adds a hallucinogenic haze to the mix. Throughout the album the lyrics are somewhat opaque but for the most part seem to be about retaining relationships adding a melancholic air which is best captured on the aching organ drenched Jump Start which features a fine and gutsy guitar crunch while It’s My Life (Not Ours) burns with an ill disguised anger and slopes along with Neil Young guitar picking and some fine bass playing from Tobin while the keyboards add an air of gravitas. Rainbows is perhaps the pick here as a sole harmonica takes us into Dylan territory and Grier’s organ fills offer a glimpse of how The Band might have sounded had they hung about Edinburgh folk clubs. They close the album with a classic miniature on Carry Me Home. Acoustic guitar and piano open before a lonesome pedal steel (by guest Tim Davidson) offers an audio equivalent to the sun going down on this latest offering.

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Homeward is released on 18th April and Dropkick are playing a short tour to celebrate the release. Good news for vinyl junkies is that the album will be available on 180 gram black vinyl in full colour sleeve, with lyric insert sheet, download code and a CD digipak version of ‘Homeward’ which you can order here.

Fri 11th April @ Twa Tams, Perth. 8.30pm. Free entry. With The Galipaygos.
Thu 17th April @ Clarks on Lyndsay St, Dundee. 8pm. Free entry. With The Galipaygos.
Fri 18th April @ Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh. Doors 7pm. £5 entry. With The Galipaygos.
Sat 19th April @ The Tea Posy, High St, Dingwall. 1.30pm. Acoustic set.
Sat 19th April @ Mad Hatters/Hootenany, Inverness. 9.30pm. With The Galipaygos.

Dropkick Time Cuts the Ties

Scotland’s other great power pop band, Dropkick released this, their tenth album a few months ago. Hi ho, it’s never too late to summon up a few words of praise for what should really be essential listening for anyone out there with the slightest interest in Scots rock and pop.
Over the years Dropkick have delivered well-crafted collections of sunshine pop seasoned with a whiff of Neil Young type drama. On their last release, “Abelay Hotel” they seemed to have just about honed their craft to perfection but Time Cuts the Ties trumps it and is certainly their best release so far. Interestingly it follows the departure of bassist Scot Tobin and guitarist Roy Taylor who were replaced by original Dropkicker Ian Grier and its as a trio that they recorded this album. Whether they felt they had something to prove or that the original line up reinvigorated them, who’s to know. What we do have are 13 songs that take the blueprint and add some punch to it. The vocals remain wispy but sound more confident, the song structures may recall the Beatles at times and when they get down and dirty on Everything Changes they do mine some Neil Young guitar heroics however one is never in any doubt that this is a Dropkick album. Home compresses much of this into a single song of epic proportions. Solid guitar, stellar vocals, walrus strings all add up to an incredibly strong centrepiece.
With a brace of simpler acoustic songs surrounding the heavy weights there is plenty of variety on show here. Nowhere Land can be singled out for having an element of the band’s homeland embedded within it with its apparent nod to the late Gerry Rafferty’s early style. Despite the plethora of influences mentioned here Dropkick can be proud of an album that draws from the best and distils it into a potent homemade brew.

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Everything Changes