Friday, 19 October 2018

Carla J Easton - Impossible Stuff

If you are a regular or semi-regular reader of my blog then you'll already know of my sisters creative talents through the songs she has written and recorded with her bands Futuristic Retro Champions and TeenCanteen and her first solo album Homemade Lemonade that she released under the guise of Ette.

Carla is now stepping out as an official solo artist after a particularly productive couple of years that included the aforementioned Homemade Lemonade album, the Say It All With A Kiss LP and the Sirens EP with TeenCanteen, as well as videos, festivals and sessions

There have been collaborations with Belle and Sebastian - a co-write and lead vocal on Best Friend and with Kirsty Law on The Iron Railing, a writing retreat at the Banff Arts Centre in Canada and then a return trip to record the album with Howard Bilerman, who produced Arcade Fire's seminal Funeral LP, on production duties. Oh and she is making a documentary on Scottish girl groups, curated a night at the Edinburgh Arts Festival and I'm pretty sure I've missed something. Oh yeah, she has 6-songs recorded that might be on her next album plus a couple left over from Canada.

In short it has been fantastic to see my wee sister so creative and productive and receiving excellent support from all over the world. Her 2 visits to Canada in 2017 were, in her own words, 'life changing'. On a writing retreat at the Banff Arts Centre, she bloomed and was promptly invited back to record an album.

And so on to the album Impossible Stuff  . I originally started writing a blog on it last October when I first heard it, then deleted it, rewrote some, scrapped it, started it, left it ...... and finally decided just to go with what I have! So here is a short review, some of the videos released over the last year and links to other reviews and interviews. There has been a fantastic response to the album. I'm super proud of my wee sis. And there is a lot more to come from her!

Check the video for Dreamers On The Run (above), the opening track, with Carla representing Scotland at the Eurovision) opens the album. It's under 2-minutes long but there is a lot packed in. The song floats and flows, Fats Kaplin on violin is stunning and there is a strong Celtic melody and tone.

The title track is exceptionally melodic and playful with Carla utilising the talents of friends she made in Canada at the Banff Arts Centre. There are strings, crashing drums, a beautiful piano solo and then a build up to a glorious racket that starts at 2 minutes 12 seconds and brings in a choir and what sounds like every instrument Carla's friends could get their hands on. It sounds amazing! Check the video recorded with talented friends within 3-days of returning from Canada.

Impossible things just to hear your heart sing
Oh I'd do anything for you
Impossible stuff just to feel your love
Oh I'd do anything for you

Lights In The Dark was the first single to be released from the album back at the start of the year. Carla tells a story and her lyrics paint a picture, the 80's drum beat sounds cool and it's one of my favourite vocals from the album.

You can just take my heart
You can just pull me apart
I'm searching for the lights in the dark

Meet Me In Paris has a nice psychedelic tinge to it courtesy of some sitar action, the melody, feel and urgency in the song makes an immediate impact. Melodies pour out of my wee sister, almost literally on Never Had the Words, the vocal melody just tumbles out and doesn't stop, its a real favourite.

Next is second single Wanting What I Can't Have. I remember Carla sending me the demo that she recorded at our Mum's house and her being really proud of it, describing it as a little Primal Scream-esque. It's an epic, particularly good live.

The album spins from Carole King inspired numbers, to 80's drum machines and synths, to Spector-esque walls of sound, to stomping pop and Milk and Honey (video below) merges the last two.

Things slow down for Girl from Before, a late 50's/early 60's inspired ballad with soaring strings and at one point it seems like the vocal melodies are just going to keep building, before slowing back down. There is some stunning guitar playing towards the end.

Then Vagabond, the oldest song on the album and originally a b-side to the TeenCanteen 7-inch You're Still Mine, is rerecorded and it is just gorgeous. Here is a live version Carla recored with TeenCanteen.

The album ends with the Harrison produced by Spector Lullaby. All Things Must Pass is a favourite album of Carla's and I know she listened to it a lot en route to Canada. This is a spine tingler, the guitar solo is stunning.

Impossible Stuff delivers more on every listen, the quality shines through. Melodies are everywhere, the playing and production is exquisite, there is real heart on sleeve soul, playfulness and the sound of someone in the zone with a studio, producer, engineer and musicians who believe in her and can create the sounds from here head.

Impossible Stuff has been getting a lot of attention and people are saying some lovely things! In addition to airplay and sessions, here are some links to review and interviews, including a cracking track-by-track interview Carla did with The Skinny. You can buy the vinyl from Olive Grove Records and it should be in Monorail, Assai and Love Music.

The Skinny track by track

The List

Record of the Day - Milk and Honey 

Sunday Post 

Sounds Like Blog

The Fountain

Louder Than War

The Music Brewery

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Original Memphis Recordings by Primal Scream

In a world and time where many recordings are produced, compressed and mixed to within an inch of their life, lets step back in time, to 1993, when Primal Scream decamped to Memphis to record the follow up to their seminal Screamadelica LP.

The band hired legendary producer Tom Dowd who had previously worked with all kinds of legends including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Booker T and the M.G.'s. If the hiring of Dowd didn't give an idea of the sounds the Scream were striving for, they also hired in David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums), the Muscle Shoals rhythm section who had played on so many classic soul cuts.

For whatever reason (mainly Sony didn't hear a hit), the Memphis recordings were shelved and the album was beefed up. Rocks got a new drum beat and added sheen, Jailbird was also polished up a little and the album came out in 1994 as Give Out But Don't Give Up.

It's only now, 25-years later, that the original 9 recordings with Tom Dowd, plus a string of extras, are being released, being discovered in a cupboard in Andrew Innes' house.

And oh what a treat it is to hear a band cutting loose, jamming, having fun, blasting out some good ole rock n roll and writing some outstanding ballads - building on the exceptional Damaged from Screamdelica. This is country tinged soul, Gillespie pours his heart out, the band are in sensational form, free from the electronics of Screamadelica, free to play, to express themselves and play they do.

Jailbird pulses and thrills, its looser than the version released as a single an on the album back in 1994, but its all there. Stabbing horns, euphoric backing vocals and Gillespie sounding like he is having the time of his life. Living the dream.

It's interesting to hear Rocks without the pounding drums that usher in the 1994 single version. This is the sound of Primal Scream as a super cool rock n roll bar band, guitars driving the song, horns lifting it higher and Gillespie urging us to get our rocks off. It's super cool raw rock n roll and Martin Duffy has a cracking piano solo in it.

The Faces-esque rock n soul of Call on Me continues the upbeat start to the album. Gillespie and Denise Johnson combine brilliantly. Tom Dowd's production captures a band on fire.

Primal Scream's ballads are often overlooked in their career, but there are so many gems. Going back to I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have (transformed into Loaded) through to Sometimes I Feel So Lonley.

Everybody Needs Somebody is a stunner, Gillespie urges we got together babe over a gospel backing vocals, Throb (Robert Young) coaxes soulful riffs on lead guitars and you can just imagine Gillespie looking on in awe as his band jam on behind him.

A little bit of soul 
Is worth more than gold

The 'feel' that is captured on the Memphis recordings is stunning. The soul and passion leaps out. Sad and Blue with the bluesy slow harmonica and star reaching vocals of Denise Johnson utterly beautiful. From memory I recall an interview from the time where Bobby Gillespie says something like 'no-one can play as slow as us, it's beautiful'. Listen to this and you get what he means.

Shine a light on me sister, let your love light shine

This version of Big Jet Plane is gorgeous. The band feel their way in and Gillespie's stoned soul has never sounded better with the added sugar of a gospel choir coming in to lift the chorus. The horns are delicious. Mournful and soulful.

Gillespie hands lead vocals to Denise Johnson for the incredible Free. And oh how she soars. There is an almost jazzy feel to this recording, the sax, the piano, the slow groove. It's almost 7-minutes long and it's so easy to get lost in it.

Don't want you to touch me, don't you touch me, don't you touch me
Everything is broken, I believe in you no more

Jesus (which would become I'll Be There For You) is another stunning ballad, Gillespie singing over an organ before heavenly gospel backing vocals and the band lift the song to another level - towards the stars. The instrumental from 3 minutes 40 seconds is sublime. The Primals don't rush things, again they let the soul ooze out over 6.5 minutes and every second is vital.

Primal Scream really hit the mark with Cry Myself Blind, an uplifting soulful ballad that find Gillespie so broken hearted that he could do just that. The band play beautifully, Denise Johnson sings like an angel, Gillespie turns in another brilliant performance - possibly his most emotional vocal?, and if Robert Young's guitar could talk then it would be multiplying Gillespie's broken heart ten fold.

Have you ever had a broken heart?
Have you ever lost your mind?
Have you ever woke up screaming'
Cause you're so lonely you could die?

There is a heap of incredible bonus tracks. Sadly not available on vinyl, the instrumental Country Guitar is a standout, bluesy country tinged soul. Early jams on the likes of Sad and Blue, Big Jet Plane and Bobby singing lead on Free are excellent. Funky Jam (to be revisited on Give Out But Don't Give Up) does exactly what it say on the tin and there are some rough covers.

The Original Memphis Recordings capture a moment in time, it is a brilliant addition to the Primal Scream catalogue. Gillespie (vocals), Innes and Young (guitars), Duffy (piano) and Johnson (vocals) are in stunning form, raising their game to match the playing of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section an the reputation of Tom Dowd in the producers chair.

In Gillespie's words (now) it was a perfect album, 3 rockers, 6 ballads, but the album was rejected by Sony as they didn't hear a hit. So the album was pretty much rerecorded and by the time it came out it had cost around £1 million to make. Patchy sessions had already taken place at the Roundhouse in London before the band flew to Memphis.

25-years later, it's out and it is beautiful. The 9-track album is available on vinyl, all of the bonus tracks are on a deluxe CD and are also available on streaming and download sites. It would be hard for Primal Scream to revisit this album live without Robert (Throb) Young as his exceptional guitar playing is all over the album, but it is something I hope they are considering.

Monday, 8 October 2018


Cover version of the month #39 - Erasure cover ABBA

My kids recently discovered ABBA via the Mama Mia film, so our house has been full of pop perfection for the last month or so. Thankfully it isn't always the film that is on. There is only so much of Pierce Brosnan singing that I can cope with!

So it got me thinking about the monumental ABBA-esque EP by Erasure that came out in 1992 when I was 16. Erasure seemed to be everywhere with this - Top of the Pops, the Chart Show, in the papers, in magazines and all over the radio.

Andy Bell and Vince Clarke camping it up in drag in the Take A Chance On Me promo video is something that I'm sure most people from my generation will remember!

Erasure were huge in the late 80's and into the 90's, their 1992 compilation POP: The First 20 Hits emphasised their ear for pop with Sometimes, A Little Respect and Stop being favourites of mine. Vince Clarke is a pop genius, early Depeche Mode is really the only era of the legendary band that I enjoy and then his work with Alison Moyet as Yazoo produced some incredible synth pop soul gems, Only You must be one of the best debut singles released in the 80's.

After Yazoo, Clarke placed an advert in Melody Maker to recruit a singer and he discovered Bell. The duo have never looked back and hit upon formula of euphoric synth led pop that broke down barriers and led to critical acclaim and huge commercial success.

Covering ABBA was probably very natural to two people so infatuated with pop music. And Erasure set out to have fun whilst doing it.

Clarke provides the beats and synths and whilst its not quite karaoke, Bell is clearly enjoying himself and not taking it too seriously. As was the way in 1992, in Take A Chance On Me they duo introduce a female to sing a brief ragga rap.

Erasure covered Lay All Your Love On Me, S.O.S. , Take A Chance On Me and Voulez Vous on the EP. Remaining pretty true to the originals (especially in terms of vocal melodies) and bringing ABBA's pop perfection to a new generation. After a couple of number 2 singles, this EP gave them their first number 1.

And what can you say about the ABBA originals?! They are pristine and sublime slices of pop perfection. Lyrically, melodically, in delivery, structure and production. Timeless! They deserve an essay, but for now just take some time to revisit some masterpieces of pop.

Previous covers of the month