Mike Atkinson

Sleaford Mods: Key Markets

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on September 17, 2015

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

smkm“I’m just a little moaning arse-fart, blowing smoke.” On an album which takes pot-shots at everyone from Cameron and Johnson to Brand and Blur, it only seems fair that Jason Williamson should turn on himself for a moment – but there’s more to Key Markets, the fifth Sleaford Mods album in three years, than mere scattergun abuse.

Lyrically more abstract than its predecessors, it’s also more varied in pace and mood, adding new colours to the palette. The opening two tracks, Live Tonight and No One’s Bothered, stick closest to what you’d expect – lairy chants, punk rock riffs – but elsewhere, we’re on shifting ground.

Silly Me nudges towards clumsy funk; Arabia wrong-foots you with awkward off-beats; Tarantula Deadly Cargo is a menacing, loose-limbed rumble, with an unfathomably surreal storyline. There’s seething rage on Face To Faces (“this daylight robbery is now so fucking hateful, it’s completely accepted by the vast majority”), but by the halfway mark on Side Two, Jason’s despair has taken a morose, almost defeated turn.

On the brooding, atmospheric Rupert’s Trousers, he takes weary aim at the Chipping Norton set, intoning mournfully over Andrew Fearn’s bleak, PiL-style dub tones. It’s followed by the staccato death-rattle of Giddy On The Ciggies, which gradually gathers steam, marshalling a final blast of fractured fury before ebbing away into hollow, wordless beats.

Hearteningly free of any concessions towards their new-found semi-fame (“we don’t want radio play, we’re not fucking Cannon and Ball”), Key Markets signals that Sleaford Mods are in for the long haul.

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Cantaloupe – Zoetrope

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on September 17, 2015

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

In the three years since Souvaris played their farewell gig, three of its former members have forged a new path as Cantaloupe, developing a brighter, sunnier, more synth-based retro-futurist sound. On this, their debut album as a trio, we find them steering away from the tricky time signatures of old, and heading towards a more streamlined approach.

In another break from tradition, vocalists have been enlisted on three tracks. (One of them, Eleanor Lee, has since joined the full-time line-up.) But although it’s interesting to hear the band shaping their arrangements around traditional song structures (with stylistic nods towards Stereoloab, Chromeo and Broadcast), it’s on the instrumental cuts that Cantaloupe’s unique qualities fully come into their own.

On Big Kiss and Ian Whitehead, which open and close the album, they’re at their most assertively optimistic, as primary coloured, shape-shifting blocks of sound shimmer, clatter and rumble, evoking memories of late Sixties/early Seventies TV themes or public information films.

Named after a dodgy Nineties chatline, 0891 50 50 50 offers a thrilling excursion into early Eighties Hi-NRG and electro-funk, slapping a Bobby Orlando donk under Patrick Cowley synths. Placed at the start of Side Two, it’s the album’s most overtly dancefloor-friendly moment.

Between these energy peaks, the mood dips into calmer waters, but without ever losing that core sense of restless forward motion; in Cantaloupe’s world, nothing stays still for long, and there’s always a new twist waiting around the corner. Intricate and complex, yet instant and accessible, Zoetrope radiates joy and wonder throughout.

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Album review: Indiana – No Romeo.

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on February 3, 2015

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

NoRomeo“These may appear to be love songs but look closer, chip away their exterior beauty and reveal an inner darkness. I am No Romeo.” With these words, Indiana defines the central theme of her début album, which folds twisted takes on love, loss, betrayal, revenge and regret into sinister, icy, leftfield electronic pop.

Unlike Shakespeare’s Romeo, who finds true love but is ultimately destroyed by it, Indiana finds only tainted love, and yet she survives. Even at her most vengeful – “all your sons and daughters will be broken, from now on and ever more”, she pledges on Never Born, the opening track – you sense an underlying vulnerability, and even in her most vulnerable moments, her power never fully fades.

On the cavernous, gothic Play Dead, she could be Juliet, feigning death as a coping strategy. On Bound, she traces a journey from submission to dominance in a way that hints at sado-masochism (“this isn’t love, this is dangerous”), while on the title track, she spurns the whole idea of romantic love: “I don’t need no Romeo… it’s not enough, but it’s alright, I’m sleeping on my own tonight”.

Only The Lonely buries an uplifting dance anthem under six feet of soil; Heart On Fire subverts the headrush of falling in love, casting it as a perilous act, like jumping off a tall building. Finally, Mess Around ends the journey with a ghoulish resurrection and a deadly re-embrace: “Your suffering completes me, I’ll take no more, I want no less.”

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Lone – Reality Testing

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 15, 2014

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

lonrealtestLone’s music works best in the hazy heat of high summer, his sun-baked wooziness making an apt soundtrack for indolent, blissed-out afternoons. On his sixth album, there’s a shift away from the more rave-based textures of Galaxy Garden, and a reintroduction of some of the more chilled out, hip hop-derived elements of earlier releases. Downtempo tracks such as the floaty, mellifluous Jaded wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lemurian, his 2008 release for Dealmaker, while even the housier tracks, of which there are plenty – Aurora Northern Quarter, 2 Is 8 – tend to ebb away into softer codas. On the perkily insistent, pan-pipey Begin To Begin, a voice cuts in: “am I dreaming, am I awake”, encapsulating the liminal mood. By the album’s end, you do sense a depletion of fresh ideas – but taken as an ambient piece, there’s still plenty to tickle the synapses and soothe the soul.

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Ronika – Selectadisc

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 15, 2014

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

ronselAs the title of her long-awaited début album suggests – it’s a tribute to the legendary Nottingham record store, which closed in 2009 – Ronika is a committed crate-digger, whose journeys through pop music’s past have helped to shape her direction as an artist.

She might not be the first performer to be inspired by the Eighties, but her ability to absorb and reconfigure such a wide range of the era’s key pop-dance styles, with such loving attention to detail, marks her out from the pack.

For committed fans, just over half the tracks on Selectadisc will already be familiar – from 2011’s Forget Yourself to last year’s Rough N Soothe – but there’s plenty of new material here, too. Believe It is a languid, sultry summer jam, staccato stabs punctuate the frisky What’s In Your Bag, and long-time live favourite 1000 Nights mashes Taylor Dayne with Into The Groove, to instantly memorable effect.

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Jake Bugg – Shangri La

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on December 23, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine
Like his Sixties heroes, Jake Bugg prefers to bash his music out quickly. Recorded in a fortnight, Shangri-La emerges just thirteen months after his début, and there’s a similar urgency to its opening volley of rattling, skiffly bangers. The scope widens as the album unfolds, but there are fewer all-acoustic moments, as the plaintive folkie of two years ago steps further into rockier territory.

Dismissed by some as overly conservative, he’s best viewed as a classicist, using vintage stylings to express present-day concerns. Some new influences emerge, ranging from What Doesn’t Kill You’s three-chord punk thrash to the Neil Young flavourings of All Your Reasons, but Jake’s jaundiced view of his hometown is unchanged: “speed bump city” has become Slumville (“this place is just not for me, I say it all the time”), and “messed up kids” are still dealing blow on the corner. One day, he might yet pay tribute to our proud lace-making heritage and our vibrant creative business hubs – but you wouldn’t want to bet on it.

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Ashmore – The Ashmore Show (album)

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on December 23, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine
Edging onto the margins of the city’s hip-hop scene, Ashmore’s laid-back quirkiness marks him out from the pack. He’s a loose-limbed rhymer with a characterful beatnik style, who first attracted attention with the album’s loping, swampy title track. “I’m not like the other folk, I’ve got nothing to prove”, he declares, with a half-sung, half-rapped delivery and a confidential manner which draws the listener close. Elsewhere, Misfit draws on swirling Balkan gypsy jazz, as does The Rebellious Jiggle, while Scribbling & Dribbling warns that “I’m the type of guy to steal your soul, and eat your rolls while listening to Nat King Cole”. Sampling the perky theme tune from I Dream Of Jeannie, a 1960s TV comedy show, Yah Get Meh is Notts to its core. It’s followed by BeatyWeaty – featuring the mandatory Motormouf guest spot – before Brick By Brick’s pissed-off social commentary wraps up this thoroughly likeable debut.

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The Cult Of Dom Keller – self-titled album

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Part-assembled from reworked EP tracks and part-funded via a successful Kickstarter project (although the £1000 “have a date with our manager” pledge went unclaimed), The Cult Of Dom Keller’s debut album offers a long-awaited treat for fans of heavy psychedelic noise. It opens with the grungey Wild West twang of Swamp Heron, which steadily accrues intensity before unleashing a searing acid-rock guitar solo, couched in feedback and effects. Keyboards make their entrance with Eyes, whose vocals are mixed relatively high – you can even catch the odd lyric – before being submerged in swampy reverb for most of the remainder. The exultant squall of Worlds marks Side One’s midway high-point, but by the start of Side Two, things have taken a doomier turn. You Are There In Me nods towards Crystal Stilts’ lysergic garage rock, Nowhere To Land picks the pace up, and the journey ends with All I Need Is Not Now, an epic, all-consuming drone.

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Hot Coins – The Damage Is Done

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on May 2, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Four years in the making, The Damage Is Done is the work of Danny Berman, best known in Nottingham as Red Rack’em, and now based in Berlin. Its ten tracks offer “an estranged homage to late 70s NYC anti-culture”, with a mood that reflects the austere, angsty, recession-hit and pre-apocalyptic gloom of a period where post-punk met choppy new-wave funk and early electro. First single Geek Emotions sets the mood, as a desultory spoken vocal complains that “I never get to go to anything, overlooked and underpaid, on a string”. Elsewhere, New Beat carries echoes of Yazoo’s synthy burble, and Leathered nods towards the dark side of Italo. The clouds part for the final three tracks: the lengthy, beatific Roadtrip is almost cheerful, and I Ching (described as “David Mancuso having tantric sex with himself in a NYC loft”) soundtracks the post-club comedown.

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The Afterdark Movement – The Afterdark Movement EP

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on September 5, 2012

(originally written for leftLion magazine)

A distinct lyrical progression runs through this six-track debut from our current Future Sound of Nottingham champions. Even on ADM, its cheery opening signature tune (“Let’s drink and dance excessively, so much you have to rest for weeks”), voices in the fade-out mutter of “not having a future, not having any kind of possibility”. This sense of impending doom colours the seemingly chirpy Since I’ve Been Here, which references the sunny, playful optimism of Nineties hip hop as MC Bru-C recalls the lost innocence of his childhood. Things take a bleaker turn on Better Days, which sees the rapper trapped in a struggling single-parent household (“I can’t remember the last time I was happy”), paving the way for a full-scale eruption of pain on the metal-tinged Psycho:Sik. Street Spirit adds a nervy, desperate rap to the Radiohead classic, and on Made In Britain, with its bitter denunciation of political incompetence and greed, the rage is finally turned outwards.

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Natalie Duncan – Devil In Me

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on September 5, 2012

(originally written for leftLion magazine)

The Grammy-winning producer, the internationally distinguished musicians, the top-flight recording studio, the major label push… faced with such an abundance of resources, a lesser artist could have been drowned out by the sheer weight of expectation. Thankfully, Natalie Duncan has risen to the challenge. She begins the album unaccompanied, letting rip with one of her most unflinching lyrics: “Sometimes I feel you looking for the devil in me, like I’m a dying dog and I’m begging for your bones.” From then on, she remains in full command, steering us through thirteen tracks that cast her variously as tormented soul (Sky Is Falling), cool observer (Pick Me Up Bar), or concerned friend (Flower), and offsetting her searing, soulful vocals with delicate, stately keyboards. And rather than letting herself be moulded into the “new Adele” – whatever the instantly familiar opening bars of Old Rock might suggest – she asserts her own personality, whose complexity is reflected in the densely worked songcraft and the surprisingly varied shifts in mood.

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THePETEBOX – Future Loops

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on June 21, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

Although he first made his name as a beatboxer, the term scarcely begins to describe the full range of Pete Sampson’s capabilities. Making good on the promise of last year’s YouTube cover of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind (which has already notched up over two million plays), Pete has expanded the concept for his debut album.

Just as before, all the tracks are performed entirely live, and each is accompanied by a performance video, giving viewers a glimpse of how the music is stitched together. Looping and layering his vocals and guitar, Pete builds these richly detailed tracks from scratch, turning himself into a one-man band.

Stylistically, we’re leaning into indie-rock territory rather than hip-hop, as evidenced by covers of MGMT (Kids) and Nirvana (Lithium) – but the scope is broad enough to encompass the drum and bass of Fugue In DnB Minor, the brassy blues of V.O.D.K.A. (both original compositions), and even a Beach Boys track.

Watch and listen to Future Loops.
Buy Future Loops.

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VDU – Past Future Sequence

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on April 26, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

VDU is a new alter-ego for Noel Murphy, an electronic composer and digital artist who also designs music software and hardware. Along with Tom Hill, who subsequently founded Origamibiro, Murphy first established his reputation with Wauvenfold, with releases for the Wichita label and remixes for Super Furry Animals and Brothers In Sound. Last year, the duo reunited for the Blockwerk Orchestra sound installation at Nottingham Castle, and Hill also helped with the mastering on this eight-track collection of instrumental mood pieces.

“For the last couple of years, I have been lamenting the general lack of futurism that has been the Noughties”, says Murphy, whose childhood visions of a gleaming, space-age future have not been matched by 21st century reality. These feelings of nostalgia – for a future which never actually happened – form the emotional starting point for Past Future Sequence. “It might not be the robots and jetpacks we were promised”, he explains,” but if you close your eyes and listen to it whilst wearing a hat fashioned from tin foil, it might go some way to scratching that itch.”

Spanning moods that range from the ethereally soothing (pstftr) to the fidgety and restless (Toad Skull), the mini-album begins with the smoothly undulating D.A.R.P.S, whose constant speeding up and slowing down could have been gimmicky – and yet , somehow, it sounds wholly natural and unforced.

Emerging quietly on New Year’s Day, with next to no promotion, Past Future Sequence deserves the attention of everyone who has an interest in electronic music.

Listen to this album on Bandcamp.

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Souvaris – Souvaris Souvaris

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on February 13, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

In laudable contrast to the messy, acrimonious demise of so many bands, Souvaris have opted to come to an altogether more dignified end, after twelve years together. Following their final show at Nottingham Contemporary on February 17, they will part as friends, leaving this, their third full-length release, as the concluding chapter in their story.

Two years in the making, Souvaris Souvaris is a painstakingly stitched together patchwork of sound, in which the five players explore the full range of their collective craft. Genre-wise, it straddles the boundaries of post-rock, math-rock and krautrock – although to these aging ears, there are distinct traces of Canterbury prog-rock in there too.

Within each of the six tracks, there’s a constant shape-shifting of ideas, which transcends conventional logic. On the opener El Puto Amo, for instance, things kick off in a confidently striding fashion, quickly building in intensity before dipping into more reflective waters. Almost immediately, the tension starts to rebuild, as fuzzed-out washes of sound create a raging squall that eventually resolves into a stately, processional passage. Suddenly the clouds lift, as a simple keyboard line ushers in a friskier, funkier section that briefly nudges towards jazz-rock, before switching to jerky, staccato new wave. It’s a dazzling, tightly executed compression of moods, which sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Following the comfortingly downbeat Mooky, which lulls you into peaceful contemplation, the staggering closer Irrereversible leaves you breathless with excitement, as Souvaris negotiate impossible time signatures with consummate ease, concluding their business in fittingly triumphant style.

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Origamibiro – Shakkei

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on December 7, 2011

(Written for LeftLion magazine)

As any Japanese garden designer will tell you, shakkei refers to the principle of “borrowed scenery”, whereby elements of the external landscape are incorporated into a garden’s internal composition. An equivalent approach can be found in Origamibiro’s music, which adds electronically treated background effects to the trio’s playing, suggesting the rush of heavy rainfall, the rumbling of an approaching train, or the cheers of a large crowd. Even when these noises are absent, the music retains suggestions of specific environments.

This sensibility is amplified in live performances, in which sound effects are generated on stage – rustling camera film, a vintage typewriter, a flickering early animation device – and beamed onto video backdrops. Presumably, similar techniques have been used in the recording studio, but the lack of visual clues soon frees the listener from wondering about the “how”, as the ambient textures instead begin to cast their spell.

Initially, these textures are slow, sparse and meditative, with bowed instruments dominating the immediate foreground. Halfway through, a swell of steadily shimmering strings emerges from the stillness, like a sudden shaft of sunlight. Later on, musical box-like tinkles and a repeating two-note interval that could have been lifted from Somewhere Over The Rainbow (“Someday I’ll wish upon a star…”) introduce a sense of nostalgic longing, as if the music was wafting out of dusty crates in a grandparent’s attic.

Experimental but fully finished, ambient yet wholly captivating, this is a truly beautiful piece of work.

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Gallery 47 – Fate Is The Law

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on July 31, 2011

(Written for LeftLion magazine)

Once a band, but not for long, Gallery 47 has become the alter ego of 21-year old Jack Peachey, who wrote these sixteen songs while studying English at Nottingham University.  Newly graduated, his student existence drawing to an end, Jack is already gaining some distance on his compositions, recognising them as the work of a young man in varying stages of emotional turmoil.  They are “a lot more about feeling a particular way at a certain time”, he explains, rather than being “about finding or explaining something which is ‘right’ or ‘true’ about life or society”.   Instead, the material has been ordered “precisely to show how wrong I’ve been at certain moments;  call it delusion or naivety, or just being young.”

A case in point is House At The End Of The Road, written while Peachey was so wrapped up in the aftermath of “a particularly horrible break-up”, that he failed to spot a nearby short-stay home for child cancer patients.  The guilt which seeps into the song rears up again in Critic, which traces the singer’s confused reactions to a city centre beggar.

Wary of being pinned to specific interpretations, Peachey keeps some of his lyrical meanings private and hidden.  Coupled with the austerity of his production – for this is essentially a solo acoustic album, lightly augmented with occasional overdubs – this can present certain challenges for the listener.  On the other hand, there is nothing but pleasure to be mined from Jack’s sweetly piercing vocals, and the dextrous fluidity of his playing.

Listen to this album on Spotify.

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Keaver & Brause – The Middle Way.

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 10, 2009


The Middle Way
Keaver & Brause
Dealmaker Records
****

Once known mainly for its hip-hop output, Nottingham’s excellent Dealmaker Records have recently been branching out into leftfield, downtempo electronica. Following last year’s well-received album from Lone, fellow Nottingham artists Keaver & Brause make their debut with a similarly flavoured and equally absorbing collection of short instrumental cuts, which evoke the feel of woozy, hazy afternoons in the heat of the summer sunshine.

On first hearings, the album manages to be both relaxing and unsettling at the same time. The beats might be mellow, but the dissonant samples, unexpected stops and starts and occasional rasping acid bass lines guard against any blandness. With each repeated playing, these elements sound progressively less awkward and more integral, making The Middle Way a slow-burning and richly rewarding delight. If you’ve been missing Boards Of Canada, then this may well be the album for you.

Available from www.dealmakerrecords.com

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Kevin Ayers – Songs For Insane Times (An Anthology) 1969-1980

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on September 26, 2008

In a fairer world, Kevin Ayers would enjoy the widespread acclaim of a Martyn or a Reed. Had tragedy struck, we would reverently file him next to Barrett and Drake. Instead, Ayers has carved out his own singular, defiantly low-key niche, seemingly destined to remain under the popular radar.

For the uninitiated, this four-disc set offers an expertly chosen overview of the Ayers glory years. The earliest material combines post-psychedelic pastoralism with veiled menace, flitting between nostalgic whimsy and radical experimentation. As the early Seventies progress, the songwriting deepens and matures, its easy tunefulness concealing rich seams of romantic idealism and wry cynicism.

By the mid-Seventies, stardom began to beckon. Unimpressed by its false promises, and temperamentally ill-suited to the rigours of self-promotion, Ayers slowly retreated. Overlooked by all but the committed few, there are still shining nuggets to be mined from the patchier later work, as ably demonstrated here.

A previously unreleased and quite magnificent 1973 concert performance completes the package, showcasing the cult hero at the height of his powers.

*****

Lone – Lemurian

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on August 29, 2008

Having established himself on the UK hip hop scene with Kids In Tracksuits, Nottingham musician Matt Cutler is now branching out on his own, with a fresh, intriguing new take on chilled out electronica. Named after the mythical lost island of Lemuria, and sporting titles such as Atoll MirroredLens Flare Lagoon and Buried Coral Banks, the album successfully evokes images of sun-drenched seascapes, shimmering reefs, and the woozy heat hazes of high summer.

The seventeen short tracks resemble a series of sketches, taking a few simple ideas and developing them without excessive elaboration. Crunchy beats add grit to the sweetness, as does Cutler’s fondness for introducing dissonant effects that sound like samples from heat-warped vinyl or dashboard-baked cassette tape. Although initially disconcerting, there’s something compelling and beautiful about this kind of sonic experimentation. Immediate comparisons with Boards of Canada spring to mind, but Cutler’s added wows and flutters take his music to a whole new place.

A potential landmark release for Nottingham’s Dealmaker labelLemurian is a bold yet understated treat.

****1/2

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Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir – Ten Thousand

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on August 8, 2008

wlagnosttListening to this rootsy, rambunctious take on pre-WWII Mississippi Delta blues and Appalachian “mountain music”, you’d never guess that its practitioners hailed from a different set of mountains, several thousand miles northwards. As it turns out, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir have transplanted the music of the Deep South up to their native Calgary in Canada, where they have developed their own twists on tradition.

Recorded mostly live, and overdubbed with bursts of slide guitar and dilapidated junk shop trombone, the mostly self-penned songs tend towards the fast and furious, adding an almost punk-rock energy while paying clear nods to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. It comes as no surprise that Seasick Steve has already voiced his approval.

This album’s appeal lies less with song craft and emotional range – the mood being uniformly joyous throughout – and more with the sheer pleasure to be had from the band’s playing. On the strength of this hugely enjoyable set, next Wednesday’s show at the Bodega should be well worth catching.

****