The Cotton Field Scarecrows Dancing Hymns And Broken Rhymes (rev9:9)
NORMALLY it would be hard to stomach a homegrown band attempting to add Stateside flavour by naming its songs after faraway US cities that hold no significance to listeners here. But the Sultan brothers, Johann and Shahrhyl, play their brand of Americana folk with such unbridled conviction that you could easily forgive them for a tune titled Letter From Tennessee.
As The Cotton Field Scarecrows, the duo has crafted a highly romanticised album that reflects the group’s music outlook and backporch dreams.
Opener Grass Beneath The Petals sets the tone of the record perfectly, a song with a strong hymnal presence.
Tracks like Flower Child and On A Shoestring capture a stark yet beautiful lo-fi landscape unheard in these parts.
Not many local albums can boast such blissful blues-folk framings. With an arsenal of vintage and rare recording equipment at their disposal, the Ipoh/Shah Alam-raised half brothers have gone through a rather painstaking process of trying to create an album (eight tunes) that’s displaced from time, and they’ve succeeded for the most part.
It’s somewhat disorientating to believe that each guitar lick, brush of a snare and horn line here has been made in these modern times. Such is the duo’s fiercely holistic focus to this recording process.
The crisp guitar playing across this album brings to mind unsung Americana guitarist David Rawlings, while early Iron & Wine haunts the corners here.
It would also be somewhat lazy to reference The Cotton Field Scarecrows to American band Fleet Foxes, not that the brothers themselves would mind given that they’ve engaged Ed Brooks (who worked on the Fleet Foxes’ debut) to master Dancing Hymns And
Broken Rhymes in the United States. But it is from this comparison that the lessons-to-be-learned also comes to the fore. While Fleet Foxes are magnificent when it comes to vocal range and dynamic instrumentation, The Cotton Field Scarecrows can sound a little too meandering with its arrangements. But these are minor blemishes to polish out.
The blueprint The Cotton Field Scarecrows have chosen to build on is already remarkable, so the duo can only get better from here on.
Contact the band at www.facebook.com/thecottonfieldscarecrowes.
Jake Bugg shangriLa (universal Music)
ON this sophomore album from one of Britain’s more recent and distinctive singersongwriters, you get the feeling that detractors would be quick to label young Jake Bugg a “one-trick pony.” That could possibly be true but undeniably, it’s a good trick.
Scratchy and bluesy folk music may not light the Top 40 charts but for the fans who never get tired of this rugged genre, there can never be enough of it.
Bugg’s brilliant Lightning Bolt, off his debut, had enough bohemian folk wisdom in it to probably put a smile on Dylan’s face.
It’s on the back of this trick that Bugg largely rides through this sophomore test. Shangri
La is an album where Bugg can be found developing a leaner and meaner sound.
Melodically, nothing quite jumps up at you in the way Lightning Bolt and Two Fingers did on his debut. But the raw vibe remains very much the same.
There are meaty tunes to sink into here, especially the brilliantly titled There’s A Beast
And We All Feed It and Kingpin. For certain, this chap can deliver the groove-based blues and folk rock flavoured soul.
Producer Rick Rubin also gives solid guidance to this young talent through this album, roping in drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and Tom Waits) to add much needed colour and dynamics to the set.
The fact that Bugg, 19, is able to carve these characteristically strong records like the last 40 years of music did not exist is really something to behold.
Hard to imagine, but at one time, Bugg had trouble filling 100-capacity folk clubs in Britain, now he’s drawing arena sized crowds in America. Long may he run.
Paul McCartney New (universal Music)
IT’S probably impossible trying to live up to a legacy like Sir Paul McCartney’s. A lesser man would have given up trying to make music. Well, certainly any new music.
And for a while the 71-year-old Liverpudlian wasn’t quite sure what to do, shuffling between playing the pop scene’s chart game ( Memory Almost Full album) and making an insignificant back-to-roots album ( Kisses On The Bottom) that neither lived up to his legacy or indicated a push towards something new. Of course, McCartney isn’t an American
Songbook- version of Rod Stewart. But 2005’s Chaos And Creation In The
Backyard signalled a McCartney willing to experiment. Produced by Nigel Godrich, that album saw the former Beatle taking bigger sonic risks and in a way, finally planting his flag on where he wanted to go with the latter part of his career. He got sidetracked a little in recent years.
But we’re happy to report that McCartney has found his form again on New, an album that actually sounds good from front to back. The 1960s fuzzy garage guitars on On My Way To Work is a bold move but the results are satisfying.
And opener Save Us is a driving rocker, but not in a geriatric way, thanks to its timeless use of four-part harmonies and brooding melodies.
The production team, which includes Giles Martin, Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Paul Epworth, has brought fresh spark to this record.
Make no mistake, even with some new fixtures, this is unmistakably a Paul McCartney album. That bittersweet sense of melody and chord work may have been replicated countless times over the years by others, but this is straight from the original source.
New, thankfully, is not entirely an ironic name for the album. There is some truth to it.