Scott Lavene’s Milk City Sweethearts

We’ve had a spate of comical albums coming in for review, what with Death of Guitar Pop, Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer and now this, which is by far the darkest, consequently most poignant. Songwriter and raconteur Scott Lavene returns this Friday (17th September) with Milk City Sweethearts, an album of new material…..

There’s intelligent and thought-provoking arch-beat poetry chatted here, an amphetamine-induced self-evaluation of an ordinary Essex boy, delivered passionately with a witty edge you cannot ignore. Something of an oddity at times, random prose seemingly slotted erratically fall into place with a running theme of this hopeless romantic, as the album progresses.

Behind a variation of backbeats, often being post-punk, as is Scott’s roots, yet fluctuating through new romantic electronica and eighties mod revival, are honest and blunt chronicles of love, loss, coming of age, in effect making for a memorable kind of album, border-crossing Ian Dury with Sleaford Mods; a Mike Skinner of The Streets in the Bowie or Jam era, or a psychedelic Gecko.

Humbly wry, the observations of his imprudent past come back to haunt him, as he retells heartfelt autobiography. The Ballad of Lynsey being the particularly touching example, telling of a potential everlasting love, but lasting only year due to differences, with the revealing chorus, “I choose amphetamines over you.”  

If I’ve made this sound despondent and somewhat depressing, while yeah there is that, Scott’s witty charisma teeters atop at even the gloomiest synopsises with clever wordplay and metaphors. And besides, not every track is quite so melancholic. In fact, it begins very much with the aforementioned mod revival style. Upbeat opening tune, Nigel, is especially comical, expressing the strangeness of individual’s choice of “kicks.” Likewise, The First-Time reels off an amusing list of first experiences with the annotation, “one day there’ll be a last.” It’s all very Essex lad Talking Heads, Phil Daniels chatting on Blur’s Parklife, etc.

Art-pop carries over when the mod revival moves over for a new wave electronica feel as the album progresses, by the third tune, The Earth Don’t Spin, it’s very much more Stephan Tintin Duffy than Weller. For all the credentials and comparisons mentioned, there’s no cliché, everything here is uniquely composed and written originally, and Milk City Sweethearts isa listener, not the sort of long-player you can pause and pick up again, you’ll be impelled to digest it one sitting.

A master storyteller astutely aware of when and how to evoke the correct emotions, and find unusual thoughts to everyday scenarios. The farewell to deceased finale, Say Hello to Zeus, is as Bowie, simply inimitable and inducing. Whereas halfway through gives us the laugh-out-loud Walk Away is Essex humour at its very best.

Closest you’ll get to see him to here is Bath’s Komedia on the 12th December, for now this masterful album, out via Nothing Fancy Records, is interesting, to say the least, an essential item for enthusiasts of the quirky and unusual, making the world seem that much smaller, and amusing, for lonely hearts.

I’m quite happy, thank you, but loved it nonetheless, cos it ain’t always been that way. And that’s it, right there, I figure it’s not only my association Scott is from my motherland, but there’s something I think anyone with a heart will identify with here, and that’s something really rather special.


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Beans on Toast Knee Deep in Nostalgia

If growing up in Witham meant Braintree appeared to be Shelbyville to our Springfield, I should go no further. The Prodigy are undoubtedly Essex’s finest musical export in the last three decades, next to Colchester’s Blur, and what did Witham give us? Olly Murs, that’s who.

Though if Jay McAllister’s hometown evokes my own childhood memories, his forthcoming album, Knee Deep in Nostalgia will for all. It’s released, as all his annual studios albums are, on his birthday, the 1st December. Yet whereas Braintree’s Prodigy were sovereigns of progression, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about Jay, from the same Essex community, who’s tongue-in-cheek stage name, Beans on Toast suggests. But it makes up for it in highly entertaining folk songs which doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

As with Frank Turner, who incidentally guested on and produced previous Beans on Toast albums, I jumped on the chance to review this on the endorsement from Sheer Music’s Kieran Moore, and just as before, perhaps more so, he didn’t let me down. For as a folk singer-songwriter I’d evaluate Beans on Toast isn’t Tammy Wynette, or Willie Nelson, of whom he takes a nod to in a song on this album, but he is the best thing at least since the sliced bread in his namesake. He is Beans on Toast, indefinitely, and I love beans on toast. you can add cheese, you can add little sausages, but as it remains, none matter, simplicity is key; just beans, on two slices of toast, it works.

Aptly, just as the dish, his style is simple but effective and immediately likable. He drafts songs from the heart, served with a side-order of cheeky Essex humour, the reason why he’s played every Glasto since his first, and Boomtown, recorded with and shared the stage with many legends, recorded in Kansas with Truckstop Honeymoon, opened for Kate Nash and Flogging Molly, and aforementioned Turner on his sell-out Wembley show. Why haven’t I cottoned on about his brilliance before? It’s an age thing; old dog, new tricks. But that, in a nutshell, is the theme for this album, as the name suggests, but not without both sentimental and humorous prose.

For this whippersnapper contemplates his looming fortieth, which, if I get the honour of you reading this, Jay, I’ll confirm it gets no better. And with it reminisces his past. One concerning the thrills and pitfalls of gigging in Camden, but most poignant are those which go back to childhood; being frightened on Halloween, inspirational teachers, family discos at a village hall, and one which ingeniously sums up the whole shebang of daydreaming about the past.

Knee Deep in Nostalgia isn’t going to wow you with technological advances in sound, it isn’t going to whisk you to a fantasy world. I’d even say there’s sometimes cliché with the subject matter, but when done it’s done uniquely, insightfully reflective. There’s ingeniously uncensored meagre material here, offering a range aside the general theme of nostalgia, particularly the upbeat and carefree Coincidence, which rings almost on a level of Madness for fairground joy.

The gem is precisely in its simplicity, Beans on Toast reflects and rebounds onto the listener, acknowledging their own life in his words. You may have known a crazy Australian dude, as depicted here, you may giggle at your own fondness for Finder’s Crispy Pancakes, or when the streetlights coming on was a signal to go home, and the other everyday juvenile cultural references. And for this, and more, I bloody love this album.

There is a particular nugget which knocked me head-over-heels, and it’s when Beans on Toast get sentimental. Reminiscing often spawns from watching your own children, and interacting with their joy and innocence at discovering the world again. Tricky to pinpoint why having kids is overwhelmingly fantastic, being they poo on your hand, launch their dinner in your face, cost you a king’s ransom, belittle you and grow to ignore your every word, but with a simple leitmotif Beans on Toast nails it. Again, even when semimetal, nothing is psychologically challenging, it’s just the premise of The Album of the Day, which touches the heartstrings; sharing a moment with his daughter, as with alongside other memorable doings, he temps her musical taste with choices from his record collection. It sounds sickly, but I promise you, as I did earlier, this guy can pull it off with bells on.

That said, kids grow, and the fragile years, when they’d take heed and listen to Bob Marley, Dire Straits, Paul Simon, or whoever inspired you, are too short. They’ll find their own way, and you have to allow them to, as your house turns into a bass funnel and you metamorphize into your own misunderstanding parents; it’s unavoidable no matter how you might think when they were inspired by your likes, and in this, is the brilliance of the song.

I mean my offspring, they don’t even like beans on toast, right, which I think is abnormal; all kids like beans, it should be enforced! Such should this album. And it comes with an accompanying album, The Unforeseeable Future, which I could only speculate about, as the title suggests, as they didn’t send that. On the basis of this one though, I’m musically smitten.

Knee Deep in Nostalgia is out on 1st December; Pre-order it here.


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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Mr B & The Wolf come out of The Mist

On our promise, via The Indie Network Facebook group, and generally a growing cognisant inside me, for Devizine to musically venture outside our local area, geographically, here we go with a starter for ten. Though it’s no new thing, in the past we’ve mentioned many, from Cosmic Rays in Shropshire, to Mayyadda from Minnesota; I invite this pandemic to officially crash our borders….

One request recently came from one Vince Henry, who’s digitally-adapted Facebook profile pic makes Doug Bradley in his Pinhead guise from the Hellraiser films look like a bedtime Care Bear, and led me to assume the band he manages, Mr B & The Wolf was about to unleash some thrash death metal or psychobilly peculiarity unwillingly into my aging eardrums. I prepped myself accordingly, one ear in the headphone, paracetamol within reach, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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As a function band based in my motherland, Essex, Mr B, and his wolf too, are lively, true, but present a flowing range from blues-based rock and Americana to “throwback” pop and soul, and do it with the finesse of a contemporary Fleetwood Mac. It’s a zephyr blowing your locks, the single I’ve been sent, Out of the Mist archetypal of the band’s bravura. I liked it and now have the album, LazyDay to give a fuller appraisal.

With echoes of driving rock Mr B and the Wolf keep a balance, there’s no tearing off metal as I preconceived, no angry underscores, rather a commercially viable equilibrium of uplifting rock radio stations cannot excuse for not spinning. Second tune, Rise Up, a great example of this breezy and enriching chic. Yet in the acceptance lies an aching sensation eighties power ballad bands, like Huey Lewis and the News should’ve been striving for a sound more like Mr B & The Wolf.

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Three tunes in then, and Crazy Town strips the style back to a deeper blues riff, vocally gritty, vocalist Dean Baker handles it very well indeed. Out of the Mist combines the two and stands out, for both catchiness and composition. Chestnut subject matter, yeah, but it doesn’t sway me when it’s performed so well.

What we find here is a bonded, proficient band with stains of all rock has produced before but boy, do they know how to wear it well. They being, Ben Pellicci on lead and backing vocals, Jason Bird on bass and backing vocals, George Wallis on rhythm, and Jason Chown on Drums; unconfirmed which one is the wolf!

Phoenix ballads us to the finale, harmoniously and mellowly. I couldn’t go as far to compare it with the way Morrison would direct the Doors through an audience-mesmerising voyage, but it does equate the great soft metal bands of yore’s more magically rousing moments. I nod to Heart and of course, Bon Jovi, but they’d be knocking on the doors of Floyd or Cream, see if they’re coming out to play.

The finale though, belts back the blues riff and takes us full circle. In conclusion then, Mr B & The Wolf certainly don’t drift from blues-rock formulae, though it’s a damn fine established blueprint anyway, and this Chelmsford band do it with style. LazyDay would refrain you from road rage in traffic and compel you to turn it up when you hit the open road, Mr B & The Wolf would be a gig you’d return from with fond memories.


Mr B & The Wolf Website

BandCamp for the album (£3.50)

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