Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Album Review: Children: Our Voices IntertwineD - Kath Bee & Doug Stenhouse

Kath Bee is a singer, songwriter and author from New Zealand. Her latest album Children: Our Voices IntertwineD features ten outstanding songs; which she, along with fellow songwriter and producer Doug Stenhouse, have crafted to perfection. Essentially the album shines a light on the emotional impact experienced by children during lockdown. The songs on the album were sung by the children and also originated from the ideas of the children involved. Consequently, the mood of the album exudes an honest and authentic reflection of this emotional catharsis.

The album takes the listener on an emotional journey where the children express their thoughts, fears   frustrations and ultimately hopes for the future. Sometimes this is expressed in sheer frustration as in "I Want To Scream", alternatively escapism appears to be the solution as portrayed in 'The Teddy Bear Team". Either way this emotional upheaval provides a cathartic outlet for children to express themselves, and an opportunity for parents to gain insight into how their children are coping.

The opening track "Sisters and Brothers" describes the kind of angst often experienced when stuck at home with siblings who we may love, but perhaps don't get on with 'all the time'. The message is further enhanced through the minimalist intensity of the bridge where the drums and vocals almost drift into Rap territory. Despite the sombre mood of the lyrics, the music is quite upbeat, and manages to convey a sense of optimism, through the brighter side of blackness.

From Rap to Punk, "I Want To Scream" lays down the gauntlet with a pulsating bass, that sounds like a track extracted from a new wave compilation. Shades of Blondie perhaps, with a twist of the Ramones thrown in for good measure. I love the total conviction of the vocals, which are delivered with tremendous gusto. All in all, a magnificent slice of outrage, which despite its youthful nihilism still manages to finish on a note of optimism, recognising that despite everything, 'tomorrow's another day'.

The somewhat dreamy "Ko Tatou Tatou New" provides another interesting musical departure. Here a double bass and what sound like a mandolin, provide the backdrop for the type of vocal melody Thom Yorke might conjure up. The song informs the listener that 'no matter where you come from' we are in essence 'one big community'.  The music has a slightly jazzy feel, which sits comfortably alongside the overall message, that despite the doom and gloom we're all in this together.

"A Little Song" is really quite superb, it is succinct, highly melodic and upbeat in delivery. The lyrics express a message of gratitude for the simple things in life, and the chorus manages to both charm and intrigue in turn. The emotional prosody is self-evident here, where the jaunty musicianship complements the emotional content of the lyrics. The heartfelt simplicity of the message also provides a much needed sprinkle of optimism in these challenging times.

"The Teddy Bear Team" recounts the charming story of a child who seemingly develops a real-life friendship with her toys. In true Alice in Wonderland tradition, the lyrics then describe the series of events that occur as a result, beginning with 'the creaking of the floorboards' and ending with the realisation that she was in fact 'only lost'. The music is initially quite sparse with just an isolated keyboard on display, before the arrival of a string section; gradually building in intensity, and culminating in the type of explosive climax often heard in Disney movies. 

"Autumn Leaves" describes a picture of Autumn narrated through the extraordinary imagination of a child. Amongst other gratifying images, we are informed that as the leaves fall 'it is not a race', and 'they will finally find their resting place'.  The music is centred around an acoustic guitar, with an imaginative violin filling in the additional space. You can almost picture the child staring through the window quietly observing the leaves as they fall to the ground. I am sure even Charlotte Bronte would be impressed.

"Today I Am the Sun" has a more nonchalant vocal delivery, where the child imagines he inhabits a number of different identities, whether this is a bird, a cloud, or even 'a snail steady and slow'. Here, the vocals sound completely detached from this lyrical stream of consciousness; conveying a sense of complete resignation. Although it remains a mystery how such transformations would occur, the descriptions are once again concluded with a note of optimism where ultimately 'that's okay'.

If I had to pick a standout track from the album, the track "Uncertainty" would probably fit the bill. Intense, upbeat and easy to dance to, the song benefits from its funky vibe, with a hammond organ and some slap bass dominating the groove. The song also features a wah-wah peddle which ebbs and flows in true seventies style. The chorus is spelt out for additional effect, and the lyrics advise the listener to 'embrace uncertainty'.  I read somewhere recently that what people most crave in life is a sense of certainty, perhaps exposing children early in life to the futility of such yearning is no bad thing. 

"So Quiet" describes a deserted school, which as a result of lockdown has become barren and bereft of life. The music is quite dramatic with an intensity akin to Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes". The vocals are as clear as crystal and the haunting piano reminded me a little of Harry Nilsson's version of "Without You". The song is swimming in melancholy, and provides 'a time to reflect', 'renew and start again'. 

"Learning New Things" combines a lyrical chant with a series of spoken voices, and is delivered in true Laurie Anderson fashion. This musical anthem also benefits from a wistful and somewhat psychedelic vibe, further enriching the overall sound. The song celebrates the importance of learning, with the music providing the canvas for various children to describe their short term goals. This musical dichotomy provides a final flourish to this engaging and thought-provoking album.

This album has a certain melodic content that could rival Neil Finn, and an amazing ability to move between different musical genres seemingly at will. The music really pushes the boundaries, harnessing an eclectic variety of influences each merging into one unified whole. The contribution of the children involved should also not be underestimated, who interpret such sentiments with a rawness and vulnerability that is deeply moving. Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter, the music still manages to inspire, entertain and even delight. Perhaps most importantly the album succeeds in providing a much needed soundtrack for these uncertain times.

Kath Bee & Doug Stenhouse - giving the children a voice.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Flash Single Review: Allergies - Matt Heaton

Matt Heaton is a singer-songwriter from Boston, USA. and his latest single "Allergiesis both witty and brilliantly executed.  Here Don McLean meets Woody Guthrie at a Wiggle's concert, and the result is a song swimming in melody and lyrical precision. The musicianship is excellent throughout, with a pulsating bass and a shuffle beat providing a solid foundation for a lively fiddle to let rip. 

The music is lively, upbeat and even humorous at times, from an artist who clearly has an ear for both rhyme and melody. The lyrics unfold in a series of rhyming couplets describing a list of allergy induced ailments; all delivered in a fun and light-hearted manner. Although the arrangement is tightly compressed the song still finds the required space for the fiddle to intoxicate the ear in almost Dexys Midnight Runner's style.

The song features some sprightly guitar playing, and sublime lyrics, where Blakean images such as 'every rosebud has a thorn' add further impact to the song. The dichotomy created between the complexity of the rhythm and the clarity of the message shows a musician in complete control. The overall production of the song is also worth a mention, as the vocals are as clear as crystal, and every lyric easy to decipher.

The song is also featured on YouTube in a high-spirited video where tissues are pulled out of boxes, and alternative medication experimented with, as the musicians bravely play on. The video is a delight to watch, leaving the impression that all involved had heaps of fun in the process.

Matt Heaton is essentially a poet, who constructs witty lines with tremendous skill and imagination. His music resonates because he can paint a picture in full colour, and his jaunty laid back style is both warm and engaging. His back catalogue is crammed full of similarly appealing songs that would liven up any party. So, if you've not yet come across this prolific artist, do yourself a favour and get streaming.

Matt Heaton - rhythm and poetry.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Mini Album Review: Shine - Sue McBride

Sue McBride is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Halifax, Canada. Her music is both educational and entertaining, and succeeds in fusing elements of folk music with a Celtic twist. Her debut children's album, Shine, provides a masterclass in both musical dexterity and lyrical ingenuity; containing only six songs, the music keeps the listener constantly engaged, moving between different musical styles seamlessly. 

The album begins in fine form with the intriguing "Little Lighthouse", which is both catchy and upbeat. What sounds like a ukulele takes centre stage, accompanied by a brass section that adds both rhythm and melody to the track. Here, the artist takes the listener on an intrepid journey, where the one constant is the reliable little lighthouse, which continues to shine even through hazardous thunderstorms 'when the tall waves pounce'. The middle eight is particularly dramatic, with lyrics that describe how 'the fierce winds blow', accompanied by an experimental piano that reminded me a little of Mike Garcon.

"Canada" unfolds like a geography lesson, where the letters of the home country are spelt out in almost Aretha Franklin style. Here, the artist refers to her native country like a close friend in which 'the world loves you'. The acoustic guitar takes centre stage, with the somewhat saloon style vibe adding a certain exoticism to the track. Lyrically the song highlights aspects of Canadian identity including the national sport of ice hockey, the extremely cold weather and the contrasting languages, all celebrated under the maple leaf flag.

"Earth Is For You" benefits from a superb melody and some lively percussion, which tantalises the listener throughout. The lyrics emphasise how we are all connected to the earth, encouraging us to all play our part, including 'every bird every bee' and 'every tall oak tree'. The song also provides an absorbing melodic twist at the end with a thoughtful vocal round that concludes the song very effectively.

"Bubbles Bubbles" is more ambitious than its title would suggest, and features an array of alluring sound effects that continue to surprise. The arrangement becomes increasingly complex as the song progresses, utilising sound effects that sound almost galactic at times. The song is really quite extraordinary, with each verse attempting a different rhythmic approach, and further experimenting with different instrumentation. Its restless energy and complex arrangement reminded me a little of "Strawberry Fields Forever".

"Canoe Song/Land Of The Silver Birch" features what sounds like a cello, and an acoustic guitar combining to create this sumptuous feast of melody. There are also some interesting vocal patterns used here, the emotional impact of which reminded me a little of "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush. Here the artist gives us a glimmer of her influences, through a glimpse of the natural world, where nature appears to work in harmony with the music. Like many of her songs, the sheer depth of musical texture leaves the impression that the artist is experimenting with a variety of ingredients in order to come up with the perfect combination of sounds.

Last but by no means least "The Alphabet" takes us into jazz territory with a lively piano and an interesting trumpet competing for space. Another educational song, with an interesting interpretation of the alphabet, which I'm sure the kids will love. The musicianship is superb, and although I don't have the sleeve notes, I am reliably informed that the artist is something of a multi-instrumentalist. If this is indeed her playing, than clearly we are talking about a significant talent here

All in all, a fine selection of songs, which are original, engaging and superbly executed. This eclectic sequence of songs blend together perfectly, with their sheer depth of musical texture providing additional impact to the overall sound. The musicianship is superb throughout, and the songs are arranged with considerable expertise. The major strength of the album is the way in which the artist stirs the emotions through the divine combination of absorbing lyrics and delightful melodies. There is considerable ambition here in both execution and delivery, and I suggest you check this exciting new artist out at your earliest opportunity.

Sue McBride - there is a light that never goes out.