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Sunday 22 January 2012

ReviewShine Round-Up

It is time for our monthly round-up of records received via ReviewShine. And we start with a sort of low-key version of a super-group. Freedy Johnston, Jon Dee Graham and Susan Cowsill are all artists I have admired for many years. I have been lucky enough to see a couple of them live, Jon Dee here in London and Susan in Raleigh NC on the same evening that I had a peculiar encounter with a lady fishmonger and ate hush puppies for the first and only time. Now the three of them have got together under the name of The Hobart Brothers With Lil' Sis Hobart and produced an album called "At Least We Have Each Other", due out on 6 March on Freedom Records.

As you would expect with the pedigree of the people involved, it is a strong record, with songs apparently inspired by their early days when they each had to take menial jobs in restaurants to make ends meet. Many of the songs sound like the solo work of whichever the lead artist is - that is not intended as a criticism, just an observation - but I think my favourite tracks are those that blend their different styles to come up with something slightly different, like today's selection. As a bonus I have added one each from their solo work so you can make your own judgement about how well they have blended.

"I Never Knew" - The Hobart Brothers With Lil' Sis Hobart

"Kings" - Jon Dee Graham

"Nanny's Song" - Susan Cowsill

"The Lucky One" - Freedy Johnston

 Dear Sister are a trio from Toronto, who released their eponymous album which came out last month. Bri Salmena and Raven Shields are the singers and principal songwriters, while Aaron Comeau arranges most of the songs. The sound could loosely be described as a mix of Gillian Welch style Americana and the 1970s Laurel Canyon school. It is worth checking out for the harmonies alone, although there is a lot more to it than that. My personal favourites include "Hallelujah" (not that one), recorded live at Levon Helm's place in Woodstock, and this next one.

"Sailor's Daughter" - Dear Sister

I can tell you nothing at all about Railroad Fever other than that they are a four-piece band from Philadelphia whose debut album, "Things You Lost", was issued earlier this month. The first time I listened to the album it sounded pleasant but slightly washed over me. Then this track popped up on my iPod shuffle and I was stopped dead in my tracks, since when I have had another listen. The album is definitely a grower.

"Saint Dorothy's Shame" - Railroad Fever

We finish with a bit of an oddity. In 2008 Brian Francis Slattery released a novel going under the snappy title of "Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America". According to the blurb it was "a surreal road trip of a novel". Now Brian has got together with some of his mates, who he has called the Slick Six Five, and put extracts from the novel to music.

The resulting album is called "Pictures of a Liberation", and came out ten days ago on Venture Joint Records. The lyrics are mainly spoken, but occasionally sung, and set to all sorts of musical styles - mostly rock or country but venturing into funk and Afropop as well. What you make of it will largely depend on what you make of Brian's voice and whether the words engage you. To be honest it doesn't always work for me, and the words and music don't always fit together. But when they do they really bring the scene to life, none more so that on this track which I find utterly entrancing.

"We Left; You Should Too" - Brian Francis Slattery & The Slick Six Five

We end where we began, with Susan Cowsill, who first entered the music business as the youngest member of The Cowsills, the family ensemble that were the real-life predecessors of the Partridge Family. You can just about make her out in this very poor quality clip of them doing one of their biggest hits in 1969 - that's her singing "and spaghetti" at 2:08.


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