October Music Review – Hozier, Ben Howard, Ex Hex and Lucinda Williams

Everything from debuts to 30 year plus veterans this month.

The debut eponymous album from Hozier highlights this singer's sensual and stunning R ‘n B / soul / blues / rock voice, part Van Morrison, part Paulo Nutini. But songs such as the already legendary Take Me To Church (17 million views on YouTube) show that Andrew Hozier-Byrne from Wicklow in Ireland is a very talented songwriter too. He’s charismatic and excellent live (he can REALLY sing), based on his Reading performance this year, and he’s breaking the States by the look of it. Actually, at times I hear a bit of Hootie and the Blowfish in his sound – a huge band in the States who never broke the UK.

His record company and producer have kept things fairly simple here, avoiding over-production, with the result that this is a very instantly enjoyable collection, with more depth revealed after a few listens. We’re blessed with a glut of excellent male singer songwriters at the moment in these islands (Sheeran, Howard, Ezra, Mulvey, Garratt, Blake etc.) but Hozier looks likely to join them. He’ll make albums even better than this we suspect, but this isn’t a bad start! 8.5/10

Another debut – and Rips from Ex Hex is a breath of fresh air. Mary Timony has played with a number of cult indie bands, but her new all-female three-piece takes a vibrant new wave / punk Ramones song structure, overlays short but gripping guitar solos, (Timony is a superb guitarist), Go-Go’s / Blondie vocals and tunes and ends up with an album that is a blast from start to finish. It’s pretty unsubtle in places but never sounds trivial, there’s some wit in the lyrics, and it’s just great. Indeed, it has inspired me to go back and check out some of Timony’s previous work, solo and with bands such as Helium, and it looks like a treasure trove of interesting stuff.  Let’s be generous and say 9/10!

Now a second album, and a brave step for Ben Howard. His debut Every Kingdom in 2011 sold millions, I loved it, and it made a star of the self-effacing folk/rock singer-songwriter from Devon. But this time, with I Forget Where We Were, he has gone for both a more complex electronic sound, compared to his previous acoustic guitar picking style, but has combined that with songs that are in general darker and less instant than much of his first album. (Nothing here quite like Keep Your Head Up or Only Love). There are still the Nick Drake and (particularly) John Martyn influences, but the use of electronic sounds brings Bon Iver to mind – both his first ‘solo’ album in the quieter moments, and Iver’s second and more band based album when this gets more upbeat.

There are some genuinely beautiful moments - the title track is superb, All Is Now Harmed builds brilliantly in an almost U2-like manner - as well as the odd moment of languor. Unlike Ex-Hex, this is an album I suspect you need to get into over time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up very high in my end of year list – a grower, almost certainly. 8.5/10 but might be upgraded...

 

Finally, the eleventh album for this artist, one of the best singer songwriters of our generation and an alt-country / Americana pioneer – Lucinda Williams. You feel that it’s almost a case of the critics running out of compliments to pay here, as the rave reviews go back to Lucinda Williams in 1988 and the classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (from 1998, and one of my favourite albums of all time). So she seems to have lost a bit of profile, but her song writing on this new self-released double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, is still very strong.

You need to get past the dark opening track, Compassion, but then soulful country blues is the default style, with both folk and rock vibes coming through on some songs, a Springsteen like lyrical talent, and a tight band behind her. Her rough, smoky voice is less flexible than it used to be, (my wife doesn't like it at all), noticeable on the slower tracks, and if you’ve never heard her before, I might still suggest you start with Car Wheels. But if this isn't quite in the Champions League of her work  it is certainly in the Premiership -  8 /10.

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