Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cariad Harmon Releases Brilliant Self-Titled Second Album

When music discovery is your life, finding a great new band or artist is big; last week came down huge, with three great finds that I can't wait to tell you about. The first one is Cariad Harmon, an amazing singer-songwriter who this week released her new self-titled second album. This is the first video from the album, "Like You".

The compares her to Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, and Cat Power. Mark Kemp of Rolling Stone uses Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones as touchstones in describing her music. There is a good reason for these accolades, she is a gifted singer-songwriter with a superb voice that betrays her British origins in the sweetest way. Her music has a bit of folk, a bit of rock, a bit of pop, and a bit of country seasoned with dashes of blues, jazz, and soul. It is a mighty listenable sound produced by Oli Rockberger, Chris Abell, and Matt Pierson.

I have long held that songwriting is the key to great music, and the creation of a song has always seemed like magic to me. Cariad's songwriting is masterful in the way that she weaves memorable melodies together with stories, experiences, and emotions. Her songs have a decidedly British pedigree, informed by a New York sensibility.

Currently based in Brooklyn, Cariad says "I grew up firmly in London UK, to an English mum and American dad." One thing I love is the way that New York is all over this album and this album is all over New York. Take "Wicked Town", "'Cause you took my dreams and you sold me down the river, Oh New York I love you baby, you're a wicked town." "California" is a sweet slow blues with a beautiful guitar lead by Teddy Kumpel and lyrics like, "So I'm going out to California, California take me in, 'cause I'm counting on you, and your sympathy, for the New York state I'm in", that nicely recalls The Avett Brothers, "Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in, you don't know, the shape I'm in."

Listen to "California".

Cariad Harmon, the album, has an assortment of New York's best players and singers.
Cariad Harmon - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals.
Jordan Scannella - Bass.
Doug Yowell - Drums, Percussion.
Oli Rockberger - Keyboards, Arranger, Backing Vocals.
Teddy Kumpel - Electric Guitars, Banjo.
Clara Lofaro - Backing Vocals.
John Shannon - Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals.
Romain Collin - Keyboards.
Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig - Backing Vocals.
Mike Savino - Banjo.

"I Want You" is such an intimate, personal plea, it almost feels like an actual conversation or an entry in her diary.

"I've got secrets and it's hard to say,
but every time I look at you I give the game away
'cause you're on my mind everywhere I go
Ahh you'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind darling not to know
I want you"

Listen to "I Want You"

Photographs courtesy of Cariad Harmon

The album opens delightfully with "Every Time", which has a most inviting melody and lyrics that, like the rest of the record, are honest, fresh, clever, and direct. The song's xylophone is one of many sweet production touches. Singers rarely have a noticeable accent when singing, however there are exceptions, like Missy Higgins' unmistakeable Australian accent. Cariad's British accent is more subtle, she sings words like can't and chance, to rhyme with don, which make her vocals all the more endearing. There are many turns of phrase that will put a smile on your face. The album comes back home nicely on the last track, "Williamsburg Bridge", which refers to the span that connects Manhattan to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

In the last week, I must have listened to this album at least ten times. I wouldn't advise doing that with most albums, however this one does not have a bad track on it, and I'm quite happy to report that it gets better and better each time you listen. Cariad Harmon, the album, is something quite special.
I have one last question for Cariad.
Music & More: Cariad is a lovely and unusual name. Could you tell us about it?
Cariad: It means "beloved" or something along those lines in Welsh. My grandmother is Welsh and her name is Myfanwy which is about as Welsh as it gets, although she's lived in London her whole life and I was brought up there too.

Cariad Harmon - Cariad Harmon

Cariad's first album, Four Letters, is excellent, too. It is a really beautiful work. The first song really grabs you with the soft and sweet vocals, and it's one great song after another.

Cariad Harmon - Four Letters

Cariad Harmon's Website
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Cariad Harmon's Twitter

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Rumer's Third Album, Into Colour, Is Her Best Yet; Video Just Released for First Single, Dangerous

I just listened to Rumer's new album, Into Colour, on the Guardian's exclusive album stream in advance of its UK release. She had me at track one - "Dangerous".

Into Colour is released in the UK on November 10th; to date there is no information about a U.S. release. Rumer could be the musical child of Burt Bacharach and Karen Carpenter. Into Colour is a luxurious collection of original songs that blend the best of sixties pop into modern songcraft and the result is a beautiful listening experience. This album fully realizes the potential Rumer displayed on her first two albums; every track is a winner. I could seriously listen to this all day long.

Betty Clarke wrote about the new album in The Guardian (the following is a reprint):

"Taking in the eight-strong string section to her right and four-piece horns to her left, Rumer shakes her head in disbelief. “Can you believe this band?” she asks. “Dreams come true.”

Yet not so long ago, this situation would have been a nightmare for the 35-year-old singer-songwriter. The worldwide success of her 2010 debut, Seasons of My Soul, left her suffering stress and “stage anxiety”, so Rumer, real name Sarah Joyce, moved from London to America, made a third album, In Colour, and found love, with producer, musical director and pianist Rob Shirakbari. Standing centre-stage on a patterned rug, she seems at home swaying to disco-flavoured single Dangerous and looks into the eyes of the seated audience as she sings “I’m not afraid of you”, with a smile.

It’s an affirmation that sets the mood. Rumer gives a confident performance of almost the entire new album, and, when Shirakbari asks his fiancee to introduce the 18 other people on stage, she admits, embarrassed, to not knowing everyone’s name. Finding her earpiece has a flat battery, she asks, hypothetically: “You’re not going to stand up and walk out on me if I sing out of tune, are you?”

That there’s no dip in quality after the technical hitch is testament to just how good Rumer is. Her easy, evocative voice breezes through the warm, nostalgic sound of Am I Forgiven and Aretha and the latter sets the template for more soul-driven material such as Baby Come Back to Bed. While the frequently made comparison to Karen Carpenter is inescapable on honey-hued hit Slow, there’s a uniqueness creeping into the Brit’s careful diction and thoughtful interpretation sadly wasted on the commendable but cloying Play Your Guitar and the risible Pizza and Pinball. But Rumer comes to the rescue with a raffle for the Royal British Legion and an encore of Todd Rungren’s Love Is the Answer, letting her class and taste win out."

Rumer's Website
Rumer's Facebook
Rumer's Twitter