Everything You Are, Onika Venus

You remember being given some coursework, when back in higher education, with various objectives and your task was to choose one to complete? Not really wanting to do it, you go to the student at the top of the class, and ask them what they’ve done. They reply, “ah, not much,” and this gives you the cue to do absolutely nothing. Then, on the day of handing it in, they’ve unexpectedly produced the single-most awesome project, covering all the objectives in one ingenious combination, and you stand there with zilch, except a jaw hanging and an implausible excuse, which you made up on the bus coming in?!

I’d imagine Onika Venus to be just like that. Now Bristol-based, Jamaican-born Onika plays Trowbridge Town Hall on September 18th, so, given reggae is cited as an influence, I thought I’d check out her debut solo album, Everything You Are, which was released back in March.

The title track was chosen as Songsmith’s Song of the Year 2020, and it’s easy to hear why. I’ve not been this blown away by a female vocalist since discovering Minneapolis’s Mayyadda.

Immediately this pushed my buttons, but if this opening title tune is decidedly acoustic blues, with a distant harmonica resounding in the background, there’s a truckload more going on than the first impressions here.

The premise from the beginning is as simple as, Onika Venus has the prevailing soulful voice to carry whatever genre is thrown into the melting pot, and drizzle it over you like hot sauce. It only leaves you pondering how far she will take it. The second tune I pigeonholed as RnB pop, a contemporary Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, aiming for chart success. When I’m Broken carries this concept to a higher height, and is simply, the model formula of popular music every song should aim for.

Yet, three songs in and here comes the Caribbean influence. Friday Love has a clear mento feel, it’s immediately beguiling, a good-time chugging song in the face the despondent romance theme. This will occur again towards the middle the album with Who’s Been loving You. Again, with Shotgun there’s similar appeal, perhaps the most definable as “roots reggae,” and, for me, they’re the favoured sections.

But it swaps back to the mainstay for track four, steady soul with an orchestrated ambience; Everything has its Season, is the ideal equilibrium to bless that heavenly voice and compose this euphoric moment of bliss. After a surprising modern dancehall intro, we’re back to an acoustic guitar riff for the poignant The Storm, using sax to mitigate jazz. I Need You, though, has kick-ass funk, Ike & Tina Turner in their prime.

With only three tunes to go, just when you think influences have been exhausted, there’s a duet with a male voice, supplied by husband, Mark, Mary, sounds classic Americana, as if Joe Cocker just walked into the studio and said, why don’t you try this?!

To keep you guessing what the last couple of tunes will hold, yeah, folk is strapped onto soul, Reaper Man aches of Aretha Franklin, but by this point you just know Onika Venus can carry this off with bells on. Raising the bar of comparisons is justified, believe me. For when it’s funky I’d give you Randy Crawford, Chaka Khan, and when it levels with acoustic and folk, her voice dishes out notions of reggae heroines, of Phyllis Dillon or Marcia Griffiths, and the gospel finale, yeah, Aretha will be justified, if not Sister Rosetta Tharpe; it is this magnificent.

Yet, unlike all these aforementioned legends, the style here is not monocultured, neither does it jerk from genre to genre without consistency and flow. Onika Venus gives volumes to the eclecticism, and it moulds efficaciously into one melting pot, beautifully. Prior to this solo launch, in a band called Slyde, her voice customised their breakbeat, techno and house style, to great effect, and I can well believe it. The flexibility of her skill is captured here, I’d imagine as comprehensively as she chooses personally, and just as the student who bursts in effortlessly, with the homework complete and to an exceptional standard, Onika Venus makes this look easy!


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OUT NOW! Various Artists 4 Julia’s House

As a nipper I’d spend days, entire school holidays, making mixtapes as if I worked for Now, That’s What I Call Music! In the era before hi-fi, I’d sit holding a microphone to the radio’s speaker, adventurously attempting to anticipate when Tony Blackburn was going to talk over the tune, and just when In the Air Tonight peaked with Phil’s crashing drums, my dad would shout up the stairs that my tea was ready; eternally caught on tape, at least until my Walkman screwed up the cassette.

Crude to look back, even when I advanced to tape-to-tape, I discovered if I pressed the pause button very slowly on the recording cassette deck, it would slide into the next song, and with a second of grinding squeal Howard Jones glided into Yazoo!! Always the DJ, just never with the tech! Rest assured; this doesn’t happen on this, our Various Artists compilation album, 4 Julia’s House. And oh, have I got some news about that?!

Huh? Yes, I have, and here it is….  

We did it! Thanks once again to all our fabulous contributing artists, our third instalment of detailed sleeve notes will follow shortly, but for now, I couldn’t wait another day, therefore, I’ve released it half a day early, this afternoon!

Now all that needs to happen is to get promoting it, and you can help by sharing news of this on your social media pages, thank you. Bloggers and media please get in touch, and help me raise some funds for Julia’s House.

I’ve embedded a player, in which you should be able to get a full try before you buy, I believe you get three listens before it’ll default and tell you to buy it. I hope you enjoy, it has been a mission and half, but one I’d gladly do again.

Please note: there are many artists giving it, “oh no, I was going to send you a track!” Fear not, there is still time, as I’ll causally start collecting tunes for a volume 2, and when the time is ready and we have enough songs, we will do it. It might be for another charity, I’d personally like to do another raising funds for The Devizes & District Opportunity Centre, but that’s unconfirmed as of yet.

You know, sometimes I think I could raise more money with less effort by trekking down through the Market Place in a bath of cold baked beans, but I wanted to bring you a treasured item comprising of so many great artists we’ve featured, or will be featuring in the near future on Devizine. Never before has all these artists been on one huge album like this, and look, even if you don’t care for a particular tune, there’s 46 of them, check my maths as I pride myself on being exceptionally rubbish at it, but I make that 22p a track, and all for such a worthy cause!


Click for info on Julia’s House

“We are so grateful to Devizine and all of the local artists who are taking part in the charity album to raise funds for Julia’s House. We don’t receive any government funding for the care we give to families in Wiltshire, so the support we receive from our local community is so important.”

Claudia Hickin, Community Fundraiser at Julia’s House

Lady Nade; Willing

Americana folk singer-songwriter Lady Nade beautifully attributes her granddad for her traits, in the song Peace and Calm, citing his love of gardening as his mellowed happy place. Wonderfully sentimental, the boot fits, as is this stunningly crafted new album, Willing, released yesterday, and undoubtedly the reason why she plays to a sold-out audience tonight at St George’s in her hometown of Bristol.

Reviewing after just the one listen is usually dodgy ground, but when an album engrosses you as Willing does, it’s all that’s necessary to reverberate the news to you just how fabulous this is.

If Lady Nade has a physical resemblance to Heather Small, she certainly has the deep and soulful voice to match, but any musical comparisons have to end there, unless either Mike Pickering is taken out of the equation or the nineties electronica inclination was mysteriously replaced by Nashville country. For pigeonholing this, it is soulful country, in sound and subject matter.

Written during the pandemic, there’s a secluded ambience echoing through these eleven sublime three-minute plus stories of friendship, love and loneliness lost and found, reflecting the fact it was recorded in multiple studios and engineered by all the musicians in isolation. Yet to hear it will hold you spellbound in a single place, till its conclusion.

With a folk tinge the title track kicks us off, and sucks you in with a romantic notion of loyalty. The slide-guitar fills a tale of faith against missing someone follows, and, lighter, You’re my Number One, trickles euphoria, warmly.

Indeed, mellow is the key throughout, Josette being breezily romantic, while Wild Fire offers a darker, moodier tenet. Whimsically spoken, One-Sided is perhaps the most beguilingly pop-like with a cannonball despondency you cannot help but be touched by. But if identification is what you’re after, Call Yourself a Friend has the sorrowful, trust vs cheating friendship, and accompanied by pedal-steel guitar-picking, traditional country music is honoured.

By Rock Bottom, as the title suggests, there’s a slight rock breeze to it without defiling its roots, Tom Petty style. Then we have the aforementioned, Peace and Calm, an upbeat, jollily ironic Many Ways to Sink This Ship, and Ain’t One Thing makes for a perfect finale, by summing up the perfect person to be in love with. What a gorgeous sentiment to seamlessly end a captivating album from start to finish.

It often perplexes me, how Ray Charles deviating from the jazz-laden soul ABC Records necessitated as the key to his achievement, to release the double-album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was considered so shocking, when artists such as Nashville’s DeFord Bailey was fusing harmonica blues into the more acceptable country style forty years prior. Still, some may be surprised by Lady Nade’s affection for Americana folk, but after one listen the surprise will turn into amazement.

As a form of healing from grief, Lady Nade started writing poems and songs, and performing locally, learning loss and sorrow isn’t something one can recover from alone, and with her music and recipes she creates a communal experience, a calling to connect with her fans on a deeper level. This shows in the sublime dedication she transfers to this, her third album.


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Song of the Day 35: The Jamestown Brothers

With tracks for the charity compilation album coming in thick n fast, time for me to take a break, sit with the family to watch the Jumanji rework, again. Hum, Ruby Roundhouse….But before my mind wanders too much, here’s my song of the day.

It has no video, best guessing it doesn’t matter, you’ll feel preoccupied with footstomping and guzzling cider from a plastic gallon container. Americana meets west country folk, scrumpy & western, this is nothing but a carefree enjoyable bop, done with bells on.

Looks from here like they’re a staggering nine-piece, suspect fibbers about being brothers, but two seconds into this beauty and even that won’t matter, even if you did bring ya mama, who’d probably just complain about her feet the whole way through.

Go give em a Facebook like, for more info on the shindigs you’ll hear them pluck their geetars at, and based on this tune alone, you know it’s going to go off.

And that’s my song of the day!! Very good, carry on….


Make Headway for Ariel Posen

Try this: think of some tunes of the decade you were born, songs which you like but don’t know why, songs which, for some reason, ring alarm bells at you as characteristic of the era. Your taste screams no, you shouldn’t like these, but you do. Then check the year they charted. I wager many of them were in the year you were born, the previous or following.

I remember liking, at the time, and I’m not proud but in the name of science I’m going to confess, Brotherhood of Man’s Save All Your Kisses for Me! Oh, while we’re there, Abba’s Dancing Queen too! Thing is, I know why. They were in the charts in 1976, when I was three, the sort of excruciating pop mush anthems a toddler graduates to after the Wheels on the Bus. However, I cannot put my finger on why I’m engrossed with glam rock songs, such as Gary Glitter’s I’m the Leader of the Gang, The Sweet’s Blockbuster and Slade’s Cum Feel the Noise, when the genre makes me generally quiver.

Any doubt I was born in the 70s cleared up with this family photo; I’m the baby!

Why flower-power sold out and hippies took to wearing kipper ties and platform shoes with goldfish in the heel is beyond my understanding of youth culture vicissitudes. Still, when I hear the aforementioned glam rock screeches, they stir something vague inside, indications of a life obscured by cognition. Coincidence they all charted in 1973, the year I was born? Or could the sounds around you, as a baby, implant permanent scars?! If so, I’ll be dammed, deeply archived Little Jimmy Osmond’s Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool!

Though you should never condemn an entire decade for its pop chart. Given you’ll throw Sonia, Jason & Kylie, even Blacklace at me, and tell me to shaddup my face. Despite the lack of technological advances of the seventies when compared with the eighties, there was numerous classics. I’m drawn to the cherished saxophone riff of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, but surprised to note, it broke my theory and wasn’t until ‘78.

The research was stirred by Canadian singer-songwriter, Ariel Posen’s forthcoming album, ‘Headway,’ released on 5th March. Oh, yeah, I am coming to an eventual music review, excuse my waffle. There’s something retrospectively seventies about it, my mind sees a Ronco record label revolving on the turntable of a seventy’s mahogany music centre. A quick flick through the tracks suggested motives not to like this are manyfold. Yet, akin to why I cannot put my finger on why I like those glam tunes of my birth year, I’m finding it tricky to reason with this too, but I do like it, a lot.

With magnificent guitar riffs which nods subtly to country and heartland rock & roll, combined with smooth, blue-eyed soul vocals, there’s something very Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever about this potential electrified Americana rock classic.

The harmonious and tenderly sensual soul of Coming Back, against the folksy- blues guitar picking of the single Heart by Heart suggests there’s a vast melting pot, but Posen meticulously stirs it into one seriously chilled groove, David Soul styled, which will leave you causally drifting through till the end. Hence my reasons for pondering my little science experiment while listening. Again, comparisons to seventies music, here’s an album to listen to complete, afar from youthful trend of flicking through Spotify playlists like time is against them.

Upon first impressions I was dubious about a Springsteen comparison, contemplating the subjects are generally of romance, and perhaps simpler than the Boss’s interweaved wordplay, yet again humbler Beatles’ pop formulas clearly influence it greatly too. Harder listening conjured a progressive prose of evolution in life, love, and all points in between. They’re poignant and beguiling, combined, you just have to dive a little deeper.

Two years in production, Posen began recording Headway in December 2019, a week after wrapping up an international tour in support of his acclaimed debut, How Long; the effort shows. The gigs received standing ovations, and Rolling Stone dubbed him “a modern-day guitar hero.” Music Radar listed him as a fan voted top 10 rock guitarist of the year, and the Western Canadian Music Awards nominated him for Breakout Artist of the Year.

So, yeah, this is worthy of your attention, and if I attempt to lambast the seventies again, remind me of the current sate of my lockdown coiffure; I’ve got the big hair of a middle-aged Caucasian from 1976. I’m going out on my Raleigh Chopper now, mum, call me when my mince in gravy is ready!

Artic Roll for pudding? Hunky dory!

Pre-order Headway HERE


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And There it is, Araluen

Ever considered Jolene might’ve been an innocent victim of circumstance? Dolly’s husband was obsessed with her, talked about her in his sleep. But there’s no evidence in the song to suggest she enacted, nothing to say she consciously encouraged it or made the first move. Dolly persecuted her, could’ve been jealously. There’re two sides to every story and we never hear Jolene’s.  

Sounds rather conservative to me, Dolly blames anyone but herself. Rather, Araluen’s song In the Arms of Another, offers a liberal angle on a similar premise. The singer admits and regrets her part in pushing him into the arms of another, by not seeing the significance of those tell-tale signs.

Credit: Music Closeup

Arguably, its notion is more provocative than Jolene, but it’s certainly the most poignant tune on this captivating album, And There it is, released last month. Araluen being the project of Australian-born, (hence the name,) but resident in the UK, Paul Lush, known for his contributions with Rockingbirds singer Alan Tyler and Danny And The Champions Of The World. With a repute on the UK Americana circuit, guitarist and award-winning songwriter, Paul, has been plying his trade as a fleet-fingered gun for hire and now sets up his own project.

“Araluen is the vehicle that I use to record my songs,” explained Paul. “It’s an idea more than anything, that allows me to use whoever I want without having to stick to a set band line-up. I’ve written and recorded a lot of songs but have never done anything with them. So, once I started this project, it was with the idea to finally release something – get it out there.”

Occasionally here, the sound slips skilfully into folk-rock, and there’s an electric slide guitar instrumental decidedly rock, but for the bulk, it’s uplifting country, graced by the alluring vocals of Angela Gannon from Magic Numbers. Also important to note this flows between changing styles with acute precision, rather than jumps in and out of styles.

Credit: Music Closeup

Maybe my mum’s insistence we listened to her Tammy Wynette cassette in the car as kids, prepped me for my newfound affection for country, projected within our local circuit, our Tammy, Quin, Jamie R Hawkins and Dean Czerwionka’s invitations to attend his Americana club nights, but I must say, I actually prefer the string-bending country ballards on And There it is more than the rock ones; or is it an age thing?!

I could speculate till the cows come home, but it’s likely the style suits Angela’s voice more. It is, by its very essence, hypnotically divine, and amatory too, in a kind of chequered shirts with tassels and Daisy Dukes fashion. Virtually all romantically themed in small-town matters and secrecy, I found myself drifting into its gorgeous, effectively unpretentious narratives, as thirteen of them roll off the ears like waves on a tropical ocean.

Such is the alluring vocals, my mind contemplated the classic Simpsons episode, where Homer is near-tempted by the advances of country singer Lurleen Lumpkin, incidentally voiced by actress and singer Beverly D’Angelo, who as well as being Ellen Griswold in the National Lampoon’s Vacation films, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her role as Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter, so it’s a fair credit.

Credit: Music Closeup

“I’d admired Ange’s vocals for a long time, so one night while we were talking over a drink I asked if she was interested in singing on my new album,” Paul elucidated. “We went through the songs a couple of times and then recorded them. She blew me away. I had never heard her sing like that. This was the first time I’d heard her sing as the main featured vocalist for a whole album and she’s fantastic.”

And she certainly is. Lush by name, Paul has created a cross-bred masterpiece here to appease both country aficionados and those merely window-shopping into the genre via rock n roll avenue. This is a keeper.


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Americana maverick Jim White returns with Misfit’s Jubilee

Going in blind, crucify me if you will, but I’m unfamiliar with Americana maverick Jim White. Additionally, I’m streamlining due to the backlog and giving this one listen prior to reviewing. Yet, even if my analysis isn’t as exhaustive as other fervent bloggers, I’m bloody loving his latest album Misfit’s Jubilee.

It’s precisely what it says on the tin, a discarded rusty old tin in a desert somewhere. An upbeat roll in a haystack of psychedelic Southern Americana, and a festivity of folk-driven geriatric observation. Yet there’s his trademark, apparently; dark trippy twist of narrative in the depths. Jim White muses US politics, divided state ethos, and national stereotypes. Subjects range from a dope smuggling teenager to Big Foot, and he does it with the professionalism of quart-century experience, and self-confessed “hole of sickness, depression and poverty.”

Multiple-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, Jim, works this personal arse-whipping outing with only the tangibly cohesive musicianship of his long-time drummer Marlon Patton, trusted Belgian sidemen Geert Hellings on guitar and banjo, and Nicolas Rombouts on keys. Recorded primarily at Studio Caporal in Antwerp, it features new songs, plus some older-penned ones, only now surfaced. Put out on Loose Records, it’s out now. To me it’s all new, but I’m contemplating Neil Young jamming with the Pixies as its mind-blowing cogitates flow over my psyche like waves of a resilient dustbowl.

Ruminations are somewhat curtain-twitching but contemporary, and it hardly ceases its brainy grip on the necks of proletarian American orthodox devotees, but does so with the fashion of a perpetual parade of agitated and cynical characters, but oh, joyfully, and with a heartfelt sonic agenda.

The sound is toe-tappingly memorable, maintains upbeat jovial generation X indie-folk-rock, yet smells of vintage. If some moody piano rings out, as it does with The Sum of What We’ve Been, a zephyr of buoyant guitar riff repairs it. There were times when I figured it’d mellowed, like Mystery of You, but it was just building the track. And for that, it rocks!

Through ever-thickening material, straggly kitsch metaphors and uncensored outpourings, it’s perhaps the twanging guitars juxtaposed with samples from authentic US police chases which makes my reasoning for citing the tune, Highway of Lost Hats as the peak of Misfit’s Jubilee. There’s rib-tickling Hollywood narrative, adroitly directed at the carefree insolence in defence of US counter culture of yore. Herein is its niche, a bombast of the direction his nation heads, and comparison of what it could be. It is Born in the USA times a billion, it’s Guthrie partnering with Lou Reed, for a new era.

The finale defines this, an earnest and heartfelt speech, reflecting on quotes from George Washington, poet Emma Lazarus and even Jesus, but after the contemplative, it slides into a fading McDonalds order. Such a nimbly placed, sombre scrutiny, is the conclusion of the Divided States of America, as itdumps you in cold silence gasping for air.

I’m going to have to dive deeper into this impressive torrent of melodic genius, as I figure it’ll be some time before I fully unpick it, and its gist is sussed; that’s when you get the notion, it’s value for your hard-earned pennies.


Jamie Williams and the Roots Collective Do What They Love, at The Southgate

He’s a fast learner, that Keanu Reeves; think how he progressed to “the chosen one” in little over an hour and half, while his superiors barely advanced at all; comes with the chosen one job, I suppose. Think cat scene, for example, where this novice presumed déjà vu, but twas a glitch in the Matrix.

Had a touch of déjà vu myself on Sunday, chatting with Essex’s Jamie Williams and the Roots Collective; alas I’m not the chosen one, until it’s time to do the washing up. Barefacedly had to check my own website, suspecting they’d been mentioned before. And I was right, Andy wrote a part-review back in July; I was briefly there too. Blame it on a glitch, rather than memory loss; this is 2020, glitches in the Matrix are abundant.

Regulars at the Southgate in Devizes, Jamie Williams and the Roots Collective are as the name suggests, but don’t do run of the mill. Cowboy hats and chequered shirts held a clue, but arrive excepting unadulterated county & western and you’ll get nipped. While there’re clear Americana influences, here’s an exclusive sound unafraid to experiment.

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Jamie’s abrasive vocals are gritty and resolute, perfect for this overall country-blues sound, but it progressively rocks like Springsteen or Petty, rather than attempts to banjo twang back to bluegrass. It also boundlessly exploits other folk and roots influences, with a plethora of instruments and expertise to merge them into this melting pot. And in this essence, they are an agreeable rock band, appealing to commonalities; but do it remarkably, with upbeat riffs, tested but original material, and passion.

Not forgoing, I still need to be careful, and it was but a whistle-stop to the Gate, to wet my whistle. As current live music restrictions being the way they are, it’s unfair to use a gig review as a base for an act’s entirety. For starters, they’re missing bassist Jake Milligan, and drums deemed too loud to bring, James “the hog” Bacon made do with a cajon and bongos. The remaining two, Jamie and Dave Milligan, cramped in the doorway of the skittle ally with acoustic and electric guitar, respectively. Which, in a way, proves this band’s aforementioned adaptability and desire to experiment. The proof is the pudding though, and battling through the restrictions of the era, they came up with a chef-d’oeuvre.

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Professionally, they scorched out a great sound nonetheless, mostly original, but a rather fitting Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, with Jamie’s grinding vocals apt for a later Dylan classic. But this downtempo cover was the exception to the rule, their originals upbeat and driving.

To pitch a fair review, though, is to take a listen to their latest album, Do What You Love. The cover of which is unlike your cliché Americana tribute too; highly graphical splashes of colour akin more to pop, or a branding of fizzy drink. The songs match, a popular formula of cleverly crafted nuggets intertwining these wide-spanning influences. One track they did live from their album was accompanied with an explanation the recorded version used a brass section and even a DJ scratching, yet they made do with Jake joining James for a hit on the bongos.

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They certainly enjoy what they do, and appear relaxed in the spotlight. This doesn’t make them tongue-in-cheek, like, say Californian Watsky & Mody, who blend hip hop into bluegrass for jokes. Rather Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective has evenly balanced said collective’s influences and conjured this celebrated, danceable and fun sound, flexible for a standard function, like a wedding party but would also liven up the day at a mini-festival.

As an album though it encompasses all I’ve said above, there’s cool tunes like Lazy Day, the orchestrated reprise If I met my Hero, and rather gorgeously executed ballad, Held in Your Glow, but also frenetic tunes, driving down the A12 with the windows open music, Red Hot and Raunchy being a grand, light-hearted example but I’m A Stone as my favourite, with its clever pastiches of Dylan and The Rolling Stones, it rocks.

You need not visit the Oracle, waiting with spoon-bending broods, Keanu Reeves, for her to tell you Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective are not some “chosen” livid teenagers trailblazing a new sound and striving for the spotlight, but a collective of passionate and talented musicians loving every minute of performing, and this comes across as highly entertaining.


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