Shelter – Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals

It’s raining in Alicante today. At one point, for about five minutes, it came down quite heavily. But, for the most part, this is the sort of rain that might register as light drizzle back in England. When I meandered back from language school this afternoon, people were sheltering in doorways or tentatively reviewing their instructions for putting up barely-used umbrellas. I took some delight in openly walking in the rain. I’m hardened to the extremes it seems. 

But the rain has served to quell my exploratory spirit. I’ve spent the afternoon drinking breakfast tea whilst eating tomatoes, cheese and bread. Instead of wandering around this fine city, I’ve been listening to music that’s been sent my way. I’ve barely scratched the surface. 

There’s a lot of great music being released but this track, Shelter, by Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals caught my ear on this rainy day.

“My heroes are Prince, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt”, says Stephen, clearly a man with fine taste. “A lot of these tunes that were written around this time deal with romantic relationship struggles: ‘Shelter’ is an honest story of a relationship that is failing, but it does it in an honest, compassionate, and not-too maudlin way by acknowledging what I’m experiencing, and what I love about the woman I’m losing, and how I basically do want the best for her.”

Sonic Breakfast thinks it’s a belter of a tune; the exact sort of Americana that sends us all wobbly and quivery. Stephen has a rich voice that digs away into your brain whilst his quality musicians burrow into your body.

 

 

Shelter is one of four songs on a split EP with another New York based act, Darlin Darlin. Perhaps in future Sonic Breakfast blogposts I’ll feature them. Cyndi, the other track from Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals on the EP is also a cracker, especially for those of us who like story-songs.

“I wanted to present a fun story, and ‘Cyndi’ is that—about a night when I was 25 and got a kiss from Cyndi Lauper,”, says Stephen about this track whilst men and women of a certain age fight back the feelings of envy. 

 

 

Curse Of Lono – Saturday Night

On balance, it was probably a good thing that the gig I was due to go to on Monday night was cancelled. It’s been a hectic sort of non-stop week, one in which sleep has been at a premium, so another late night watching headliners, Uncle Lucius, and support, Curse Of Lono, might have been pushing these weary bones too far. 

But, there’s no getting away from the disappointment. I was sent a promo copy of the Curse Of Lono EP, Saturday Night, a couple of weeks ago and the four tunes on it have rapidly become favourites when driving in my car. On a recent trip to Liverpool, I listened over and over again to this distinct mix of Americana, siphoned through a seedy London backstreet. Passengers in the car chuckled over the perversities voiced within the title track whilst I was drawn to the skewed sadness and sentiment of ‘He Takes My Place’.

I had some vague knowledge of Hey Negrita, the previous band that the founder of Curse Of Lono, Felix Bechtolsheimer, had spent years being involved with. Back in the day, before I wrote about music, I’d seen them at festivals and gigs. At De Montfort Hall and The Big Session Festival, I’d watched them perform before heading back to the beer tent and nearly missing my own compere duties.

Here was a blog post waiting to happen.

But I held back a bit. I was aware that each of the EP tracks were also being used within a short, accompanying film. The trailer for ‘Saturday Night’, directed by Alex Walker, looked gripping. Cinematic, dramatic and loaded with debauched crime, the indications were that this was going to be a fine vehicle to elevate already great songs to another level.

On staggered release across some fine blogs, each of the videos have now been uploaded to Youtube. Watch carefully and visual clues help you to follow the ongoing plot. Despite the lack of dialogue, you can follow the characters through to a satisfying denouement in the final video. The path mightn’t be linear and the story not always obvious but, for me, that sense of crippling confusion and slow-motion thoughtfulness makes the music crisper.

It’s a bold statement doing things this way. There are no half measures here. Pull up a chair, sit back and open the popcorn. 

I’m sure that, after watching this, you’ll be like me in checking future Curse Of Lono tour dates and desperately hoping they reschedule that gig. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stevie Jones and The Wildfires – This Is My Church

I first met Stevie Jones at one of the Oysterband’s Big Session festivals at De Montfort Hall. I blagged a compering slot in the beer tent, despite having very little qualities to fulfil such a role. I suppose I was, at least, energetic, friendly and a good advert for how drunk the ale in the tent might get you. 

 

Stevie (along with his long term musical collaborator, Mark Gill) was one of the acts that I introduced. I remember that he was so enthused about this experience. It was easy to banter and joke with Stevie. He seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge about music and conveyed that with charm and good grace. 

When he played on stage, there was a definite ‘Americana’ angle to his art. This was a time when magazines such as ‘Uncut’ were piling praise on the likes of Ryan Adams and Stevie was clearly drawing influence from that. 

Since that introduction, I’ve got to know Stevie a little better. It’s mostly true that the music scene here in Leicester and its immediate beyond is one where we all try our best to encourage and support each other. It’s a broad church, not always devoid of schisms, but for the most part we all get on. There’s very few who do more to achieve that than Stevie. A tireless promoter, performer and supporter of live music, it’s always a joy to randomly turn up at one of my local pubs to be entertained by his acoustic performance. 

Following a successful pledger’s ‘soft release’ last autumn, Stevie will launch his new album nationally this spring. Recorded with his full band, The Wildfires, ‘Stratigraphic Heart’ is a collection of very personal songs. The title track of the album brings his love of archaeology to the fore; the forthcoming digital single, ‘This Is My Church’ gives insights into Stevie’s life via glimpses of the music he’s loved and the experiences he’s had. 

He’ll be playing shows across the East Midlands and further afield to support this launch. In a world where karma should rule, it’s well worth giving something back to Stevie.

Dusty Stray – Blood Trail

I’m reminded that, back in the chaos of 2015, I was sent a video from Dusty Stray’s new record. I was also sent a link to that album, ‘A Tree Fell And Other Songs’, which was being released early in November.

I exchanged some E-mails with Jonathan Brown, the incredible talent behind Dusty Stray and confirmed that I was definitely going to write about ‘Blood Trail’ on Sonic Breakfast. But then, the stuff of life got in the way and I stopped updating my blog.

I say to all who’ll listen that it was a perfectly treatable skin cancer without really stopping to think about the effect it had on my head in those Autumn months. As the trees became bare so did my cupboards.

Born in Taiwan, Jonathan Brown grew up in Texas as a son of a preacher man. Raised on songs about death and resurrection, he began writing his own songs taking influence from early American folk music. Travel, dead end relationships and forming freak folk bands led him to a place where he’s now based in the Netherlands. Jonathan curated the recent SnowApple video that I featured in my Sonic Breakfast Top Ten of 2015.

A Tree Fell And Other Songs, the fourth full-length Dusty Stray release, was written in a small, lone trailer in the flatlands of Holland alongside the dead end of a river. The twelve original songs illustrating “dead end” relationships flow into one another in a natural, organic way. It’s a fine listen if you want to indulge in a bit of melancholy. 

‘Blood Trail’ has a haunting, memorable lilt. It’s almost got the feel of a murder ballad save for the fact that nobody dies. I asked Jonathan what the song was about: – 

“It’s all about a somewhat traumatic childhood memory of when I was about 7 or 8 playing in the dirt/mud along our driveway — making some kind of “castle” or something — and some neighborhood kid came along and completely destroyed it. I was so angry that I picked up a nearby brick and threw it at him hitting him in the head and causing a lot of bleeding and screaming. He turned out to be ok — didn’t even need stitches — but the image of that little blonde-haired kid suddenly blood red-haired sitting on our kitchen counter while my mom was helping him is still with me. And I think that was my first and last violent act…”

I love this. Have a happy weekend SB readers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ramisco Maki Maki Rocking Horse – Holy Barnacles

I was delighted to receive an E-mail from The Ramisco Maki Maki Rocking Horse a week or so before Christmas. 

The E-mail began:- 

‘Holler Sean, how be yo’self? 

These here hooves were just over at the Fresh on the Net Listening Post and I noticed you thew my hooves a vote for that there Holy Barnacles ditty o’ mine, mighty kind of you captain, these here hooves sure appreciate the support. Anyways, I thought I might yodel forth and make acquaintance, throw you a copy of the EP and such. ‘

This was no ordinary press release and I immediately warmed to Ramisco, the horse.

It was true that earlier that weekend I’d been enjoying the Fresh On The Net listening post. One of the stand out tracks had been Holy Barnacles, a short and sweet, banjo-fuelled, cowboy country stomp. I was hooked before the drinking/thinking couplet but that cemented my admiration.

I confess I was a tad surprised to discover that the man behind The Ramsico Maki Maki Rocking Horse was not some nutty, grizzled American from Austin, Texas but a Scottish Highlander, Ray McCartney, with his own label, Planet Groucho records. It was on this label that the EP, Possessed by the Gods of Cowbell Oblongata, was released back in November. It’s a fabulously inventive record, deliciously offbeat with quirky twists and casio-punk turns. 

It’s exactly the sort of release that I first set up Sonic Breakfast for. I’m sure regular readers will approve.

 

 

Richmond Fontaine – Wake Up Ray

It must be a dozen years now since I first heard Richmond Fontaine. They were the flavour of the day in a magazine that I regularly read. I’d just moved into a little flat in the centre of the city. I worked from that flat and bought lots of CDs from the local record shop to stop myself from getting lonely. 

At night, I’d go to a bar just around the corner and drink. I never had much to get up early for and I enjoyed the company.

Different continent but similar desperation, I found something in the roaming bleakness of your typical Richmond Fontaine song. Their album, Post To Wire, was played a lot that year. Laced with dark humour and pedal steel guitar, this became the soundtrack to my summer. Here was an offer of particularly effective comedown music once the effects of the ecstasy and whisky had worn off.

When a local promoter put them on to play at the Music Cafe, it was a gig I had to go to. It was incredible. Willy Vlautin was a new Springsteen; his poetry and storytelling came from that place that Bukowski occupied; desolate drinkers and pawn fuelled paupers were his characters of choice. I got them to sign a poster for a good friend who had a birthday coming up. In conversation, they were true gents. 

Since then life has moved on. It had to. I bought a house and tidied up my act a little (some would contest this). I’ve continued to follow Richmond Fontaine although I don’t think I’ve played subsequent albums as much as I did with ‘Post To Wire’ that summer. I’ve read Willy Vlautin’s novels and envied the tautness of his prose.

I’m happy to see that they’ve got a new album coming out in March 2016.  Décor Records are releasing ‘YOU CAN’T GO BACK IF THERE’S NOTHING TO GO BACK TO’ , their first in five years. 

Willy Vlautin says this about the album “This record was written for all the guys we know who have hit the wall, are about to hit the wall, or are in the middle of slamming into it, It’s a record about paying the price for the way one’s lived.  All of us in Richmond Fontaine are at the age where the bill starts coming due for the decisions we’ve made along the way.”

It might be a record made for me. They’ve pre-released a tune from it and I’m delighted to share it here on Sonic Breakfast.