April Album Review with Circa Waves, Alabama Shakes and Northern Soul

Circa Waves with their debut album Young Chasers show that there is still some mileage in the British indie-pop genre. The last few years have not been great for this type of bouncy, tuneful guitar-driven music, as the solo singers on the one hand and dance / R'n'B juggernaut on the other have taken the headlines and the chart placing.

But this might just succeed, as a very strong example of its type. Having great tunes is key, and a track like T-Shirt Weather (below) certainly delivers on that, and is tailor-made for use in TV show collages of summer days or sporting events. And there are a few songs here that you can imagine being sing-a-long successes on sunny festival days this year. There's nothing life-changing here, but if you have a soft spot for bands such as the Wombats, Scouting for Girls, Pigeon Detectives, early Maccabees, you'll enjoy this. 8/10

The Alabama Shakes emerged with a retro soul / blues debut in 2012 that highlighted Brittany Howard’s amazing voice. The leap from a bar-room band who are not exactly One Dimension pin-ups to rave reviews across the world and performing for Obama might have been too much for some groups, but their second album, Sound & Color is a real progression as well as very enjoyable and impressive.

There is a lot more variation this time, including tracks that sound a little like the Black Keys, lovely slow soul songs, the Stones 80’s vibe of Shoegaze, eerie string backings (the influence of producer Rob Moose, Bon Iver’s collaborator), and the MC5 / Strokes punk glee of The Greatest. And Howard’s voice continues to be an astonishing instrument (listen to the track below to see what I mean, it’s truly amazing), with range and emotion, from a pure falsetto to a full-on blues wail. Excellent stuff, going well beyond expectations. 8.5/10

We don't normally cover compilations here - I don't normally buy many - but let's make an exception for Move On Up – The Very Best of Northern Soul, a great value and entertaining 3 CD collection of   tracks from the genre that filled dancehalls in the north of England in the 1970s, and still has many fanatical adherents. That includes friend and colleague Sheena Smith of Spend Matters US, by the way, who has been known to DJ in this genre!

This 75-track collection focuses mainly on the better known tracks, (Marvin Gaye, Edwin Starr, Archie Bell, Dobie Gray – see below - etc) and people already into the genre in a big way probably don’t need this. But for someone like me, who enjoys this music but doesn’t currently own much, it’s great. And you would have to be made of ice not to find some part of your body moving along to many of these tracks; I suspect it is great driving music too although haven't tested that yet. But at some 12p a track it is also definitely a bargain! 8/10

 

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