MICK TERRY – The Grown Ups

the grown ups

With its lyrical themes and stories from the past loosely inspired by a diary from 1982, you could say this debut by London based singer-songwriter Mick Terry has been a long time in the making. ‘The Grown Ups’ is a personal record, but not in the soul-baring sense. It’s an album of lost friendships, relationship and closure which always retains a smile of optimism.

‘Hoxton Son’ opens the disc with simple, stabbing pianos with a gentle bass accompaniment. At the point where you think it’s about to elevate into Jellyfish ‘Ghost at Number One’ territory, Terry goes for a key change, but little more. Naturally, the rumpty-tumpty drums appear eventually – and by the time they do, the sound of the whole band is warm and inviting, without becoming intrusive. The sampled brass near the end isn’t entirely necessary, but on the whole, this paean to a London town has a charming quality, effectively pulling the listener into Terry’s musical world. ‘Northern Exposure’ follows suit with a similar marching feel – this time bringing more focus to the acoustic guitar. The mix of guitar and organ is effective and unfussy.

The acoustic based ‘Comets’ features slide guitar and accordion, but the heart of the song is provided by guitar and brushed drums. Terry’s storytelling approach comes with a heart warming quality and often unassuming manner. The chorus has a vocal approach which at first feels like it may irritate, but after a few listens becomes oddly endearing. The lead vocal has an intimate feel and a sound which reminds me very much of another London based singer-songwriter, Rich Barnard. I’m not sure whether that’s down to song writing style, or just the work of his English accented delivery. ‘Ringing Like a Bell’ has a very seventies feel, with tasteful electric guitar leads to punctuate the acoustic work. The warm bass and handclaps lend themselves to a tune with a very complete feel.

For the last couple of songs, the quality tails off. In keeping with the 1970s,
‘Tinseltown’ is pure easy listening; it doesn’t have the cool or song writing chops to make Mick Terry an heir to Billy Joel’s vacant piano stool, but certainly tips the hat to Andrew Gold. While Terry’s soft vocal and tales of jaded seaside towns and days past show strength, the music could have done with a little more embellishment – more than the ambling keyboard and drum machine featured.
Normally, I’m much more critical on singer-songwriter material which relies on programmed elements as opposed to more organic sounds, but Terry’s song writing has enough charm to get away with it here (but only just). Similarly, the keyboard string sounds which propel ‘Safe From Sound’ sound cheap, but an understated bass accompaniment and decent vocal performance (including a Brian Wilson inspired interlude) make the best of what could have been a dud. References to Small Faces’ ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ and especially “The first Dexys album” reinforce the Englishness of Mick Terry’s teenage years. If viewed as a demo sketch, it’s easy to see what he was intending here, but this number doesn’t sound like a finished work – and certainly isn’t up to the quality of ‘Hoxton Son’, ‘Northern Exposure’ or ‘Comets’.

Featuring just eight songs and a reprise, ‘The Grown Ups’ is a succinct work, with the strongest tracks front-loaded; but two or three absolute gems held within provide more than enough reason for making it an album worth visiting…and revisiting.

February 2011

DOM DE LUCA – A Bell I Gotta Ring


Every band or artist has an influence. Sometimes that influence manifests itself as a plagiaristic sledgehammer: for great examples, check out melodic rock bands BB Steal and Tower City for homages to Def Leppard, or better still, check out Hockey Night for an almost note-for-note recreation of Pavement. When there are so many bands whom could be accused of imitation (whether intentional or not), it’s always good to find an artist who doesn’t just flatly imitate their idols.

Toronto based musician Dom De Luca cites both Steve Earle and Townes Van Zant as his biggest influences, yet his sophomore album, ‘A Bell I Gotta Ring’ doesn’t sound hugely like either artist. They may have influenced him, but he’s been smart enough to take that influence and twist it into something of his own.

‘Be Back Soon’ presents De Luca at his best. The acoustic shuffle, backed by brushed drums and twangy acoustic lead moments is extremely inviting. Like many singer-songwriters, De Luca’s vocal style takes a little time to tune into, but the end result is decent. Similarly, ‘So Caught Up In You’ delivers something equally uncomplicated, capturing De Luca and Phil Brown in an acoustic duet. During this number, De Luca’s distinctive warble works well in harmony with Brown’s rather more ordinary vocal style. The solo acoustic number ‘Love, I Feel It Spreading In Me’ features the welcome sound of a mandolin and pleasing guitar picking among it’s sparseness, while the ache in De Luca’s vocal style could be compared to John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting. De Luca is so keen here to capture the feeling in his performance that no effort seems to have been made to fix any off-key moments (of which this album has more than a few), but the song doesn’t suffer for that.

Those looking for upbeat acoustic-based pop may find enjoyment from ‘Brother, Brother’ and ‘Chin Up, Babe’. ‘Brother, Brother’ features De Luca accompanied in a full band arrangement; the drum style is unobtrusive and De Luca sounds at his most confident in this setting. ‘Chin Up, Babe’ has a sunny vibe, with Dom’s acoustic work combined with a simple piano riff. The drums are replaced with congas, and despite an uncomplicated arrangement, the end result seems to work well – it’s not a great leap of the imagination to picture a re-worked version of this on the soundtrack of a family movie. ‘Lovin’ You So’ presents the album with a curve-ball. De Luca steps aside from acoustic folk-pop and delivers a track that has a strong reggae bias. While the end result is summery, De Luca’s delivery combined with the pop-reggae reminds me a little too much of Paulo Nutini – and that’s not so good.

‘I Heard You Were Lonely’ steps things up a little, delivering a number in the rock pop field. There are moments within this song where De Luca’s band really pulls together – drummer Walter Maclean turns in some great fills and seemingly relishes the rare opportunity to cut loose. Over De Luca’s jangle-pop guitar lines, Phil Brown offers spacious electric lead, leading to something which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Ron Sexsmith’s back catalogue. It’s here that De Luca’s heavily affected lead vocal resembles Sexsmith the most too – wandering drastically off-key at various points toward the song’s end.

‘A Bell I Gotta Ring’ is an album with a heartfelt approach. While there are times where his vocal delivery can be very hard to listen to, the album features a couple of clear stand out tracks. It’s possible the rest of his material sounds better in an intimate live setting.

Visit Dom at his MySpace page here.

November 2010


QOPQuakers on Probation is band comprised of father-son duo Daniel A. Craig and Daniel F. Craig, with bassist Graig Markel. Their self-titled disc is a release is given some weight by a helping hand from Larry Knechtel – a keyboardist and bassist, best known for being a member of Bread, as well as his session work with The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys. In theory, having such a heavyweight session man on hand (and one who’d worked with some of Quakers on Probation’s influences) should have gone a fair way towards making this a decent record.

The opening number ‘Pay It Forward’ starts things on the right foot with a warmish sounding number which has an allusion to Buffalo Springfield and late period Byrds and maybe even a touch of The Hollies. Despite hinting at these classic influences, it’s a reasonable track rather than a great one, due to a rather flat arrangement (bar Knechtel’s keyboard work, providing the warmth) and an even flatter vocal delivery. Some of the lyrics are also quite spiteful: “all the zeroes who were buried alive / or burned at the stake / they rose reincarnate in your madness / and jumped from your cake / like ghosts singing ‘happy birthday fucker’ as you reached for your heart attack / you said if you pay it forward, I say pay it all back”. Those lines have such a vitriolic tone – the kind which may have amused John Lennon – but such anger seems very misplaced here. Also, it’s obvious that most of Quakers on Probation’s budget was spent on this number, since it’s one of only a couple of tracks to feature a real drummer.

‘Your Favourite Song’ continues in a similar style, but there’s something about the arrangement which has a more modern feel. The acoustic shuffle is reminiscent of the slightly more country influenced material from Evan Dando’s 2003 solo debut ‘Baby I’m Bored’, with an appealing use of steel guitar. Slightly more upbeat, but still optimising the country-pop twang, ‘Marysville’ has the kind of user-friendliness of Lowen & Navarro or The BoDeans (albeit their poorer songs) – and really ought to have been the kind of material Quakers on Probation concentrated on, since it’s so obviously what they’re best at. Although very basic, the purely acoustic ‘Yard Sale’ is okay too, despite sounding like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel…if they lacked their beautiful two part harmonies.

With the okay tracks out of the way, most of the rest of this album is filled by truly awful casiotone material which sounds like songs written by spoilt thirteen year olds. ‘I Know a Woman’ is a keyboard pop number which features really disgusting, lazy song writing, twisted from a rather drippy poem by Theodore Roethke. Sung rather flatly over some rudimentary keyboards, it’s then made even worse by the use of a trumpet (credited to Billy Joe Huels) which sounds over-processed and not unlike syntheisized brass. Frankly, it smacks of a bedroom recording that someone’s family thinks is great – although that’s honestly no reason to force it upon the rest of the world.

The title track lowers the bar even farther, being a samba, complete with actual synthesized brass. I hope Quakers on Probation are going for kitsch…but even so, this sounds like a poor approximation of a church duo, playing something with the charm of a Carpenters cast-off. No better, the drum machine two-step of ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ sounds like a karaoke demo. While some harmonies attempt to lift it from the depths of its emptiness, it’s really, really horrible.

‘Lament For the Aging Rocker’ fares slightly better at first, since it features a twin acoustic guitar approach that’s simple yet familiar. It then takes a turn for the worse… With a high, off key vocal, Daniel F makes what he thinks are amusing remarks about classic rock stars not having the edge they once did (Sammy Hagar’s cruise control set permanently on 55, are Def Leppard deaf etc). The line “Do you think Ozzy will outlive Dio” instantly reminds us all that Dio is gone, and despite the supposedly fun intentions, it’s a song now steeped in sadness. Honestly though, since Quakers on Probation have such a fondness for bad song writing wrapped up in casiotone filth, should they really be making fun of anyone? If I were them, I certainly wouldn’t be mocking Axl Rose or Tommy Lee

Included as a bonus track, a cover of the 1974 Sammy Johns US hit ‘Chevy Van’ closes the album. It’s a fitting way to finish, since Sammy Johns’s original hit was produced by Larry Knechtel. The addition of guest vocalist Colin Spring improves things a great deal and the use of mandolin here, although predictable, has a great retro sound. Perhaps more importantly, by the song’s end, it’s immediately clear that ‘Chevy Van’ is much better than nearly all of Quakers on Probation’s self-written material…

Sadly, Larry Knechtel passed away during post production on this album. Since Larry played on The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, various albums by The Monkees and Duane Eddy, among other things, this is such an unfitting epitaph…it’s probably up there with Orson Welles and his final film being  the animated ‘Transformers: The Movie’.

A couple of okay numbers aside, this is an appalling album – not falling too far short of being a terrible waste of plastic. …And to think, reading the band’s (self-written) press release, it actually sounds like something that you’d really want to listen to, with Quakers on Probation being likened to The Jayhawks and Wilco! I hope to Christ that Gary Louris and Jeff Tweedy never find out their fantastic reputation has been sullied in this way.

October 2010

RABBIT IN THE BLOOD – Little Ray of Sunshine EP

Rabbit in the Blood is an acoustic based duo featuring Neil Luckett – a singer-songwriter best known for his work with alternative rock band tvfordogs – and composer, songwriter and producer Mark Lord. It pushes asides the hard rock and power pop edges of Neil’s band in favour of gentleness, of warmth and acoustic finger-picking. Musically, it may appear light upon the surface, but there’s something sinister lurking beneath.

The title cut has a very European feel, thanks to some keyboard work evoking an accordion sound, while the addition of strings (arranged by Mark Lord) is a nice touch. It’s a positive and upbeat musical arrangement, but looking closer, the lyrics are a cry of desperation, especially as the protagonist’s happiness seems to depend entirely upon the one closest to him. ‘Do You Feel the Sun’ makes great use of harmony vocals against the finger-picked guitar. Musically, it has a much deeper feel than the opener; the arrangement has a haunting ‘Scarboro Fair’ quality and Luckett’s guitar work is brilliant but not too showy. It’s song which looks for the positive, but again there’s a melancholy air.

‘A Day at the Beach’ has a musical and vocal fragility. On the surface, the lyrics deal with unhappiness; the narrative would suggest that it’s no ordinary seaside trip – if we go, we may never come back. If the kite doesn’t lift our troubles away, if we can’t dig deep enough to find the answers, we’re headed for a new life on the sea bed… Looking deeper, I think the seaside is just a metaphor for a “happy place”; that place of carefree innocence; a place where we feel safe and without responsibility…if we could throw the shackles of the real world away, forget everything and go back to a happy place, would it change things for the better? If we stayed somewhere without responsibilities, would it be possible to reconnect with the happy feelings buried inside us, or are they buried so deeply, there’s no chance of escape?

‘The House of The Dead Stereo’ has a similar reflective quality, telling a tale of somewhere once full of music, happiness and laughter; a place fondly remembered, but a place now soundless and empty. It captures a feeling of going back somewhere and it having somehow changed, even though you desperately want that place to feel the way it always did. ‘The House of the Dead Stereo’ is a piece I believe could resonate with those who often see things through rose-tinted glasses. Musically, it starts gently but builds to a climax with an upbeat drum shuffle, while an out of tune trumpet creeps in and helps to keep things off-kilter. There’s a sadness surrounding the sounds of happiness and the laughter from ghosts of the past here – and it’s that unsettling quality which makes this EP alluring.

Despite sounding musically light, ‘Little Ray of Sunshine’ is a downbeat journey which takes the listener through moods of with unhappiness, depression and disappointment. For those of you who like acoustic work and songwriting to think about, this EP should be on your list of things to check out.

Visit Rabbit in the blood here.

March 2010