Last year saw an interesting development in the local music scene - the revival of folk music. Well, not so much folk as folk influenced indie pop. And while it would be fair to say that this isn't an overwhelming trend (I'm not arguing this is the new Dunedin Sound or anything) there were a notable number of, mainly pretty young, groups picking up acoustic guitars and counting in with a "one, two, folk you".
Ragamuffin Children are Christchurch duo Anita Clark and Brooke Singer. Last year they picked up the Best Female Artist(s) Alternatui for Werecat Lullabies, an album of quiet, melodic songs featuring cello clarinet and glockenspiel along with the guitar, fiddle and keyboards they play when performing live (see the live video on the video page). Songs like album standouts 'More of Me' (featured in the podcast) and Lullaby are simply quite beautiful.
Urban Tramper (pictured above) describe themselves as Tree Ninjas so you might expect their albums to be full of hippy dippy nonsense. And while they do have songs extolling sitting around the campfire, hugging and watching the sunset, they write captivating music that has harmony and melody, great playing, and some suprises - check out the trumpet that comes in part way through the featured track 'Eucharist'. It was hard to pick a track from their third album Tokon and the Colours - it's a real grower - there's also a video for 'How Do You have Your Tea?' on the video page. Also worth checking out is a live session recorded for National Radio (stream).
Lots of the bands that make up the indie folk revival have a pretty low profile. Needles and Bees are only just starting to make any significant inroads onto the live scene but they've been beavering away recording tracks on a "two dollar mic" and posting them on the internet. The fidelity of their equipment isn't that good but the songs are - you can check them out here.
Teacups emerged on the scene with a gig in a big tent in downtown Auckland during the last arts festival. While they could be accused on being more enthusiastic than proficient they do have great voices and they're a lot of fun. Hopefully an EP is coming soon, I'm hoping the featured song 'Lily's Eyes' makes an appearance with a decent recording. The trio are about to get a huge publicity boost as they've scored the opening slot for Catpower.
Like Teacups, Delgirl, a self confessed alt-country act are influenced by some of the big names on the Americana scene like Jolie Holland, Jenny Lewis and Gillian Welch. 'Little Sparrow' is one of their older songs but they recently released their debut album Two, Maybe Three Days Ride.
Finally in this episode is one of my favourite acts of 2007 - Bear Cat. The song I'm featuring is 'Panda, I Love You', but almost all of their songs are about Pandas! The songs are really silly, but infectious. The other day I realised the songs I'd been singing to myself all day started,"Panda, your fur is so soft, in summer it must get so hot, I want to give you a hug, extinction, it sucks". I'm not sure how these guys didn't end up getting an Alternatui last year, but hopefully they'll release something this year and be in the running.
Download the Counting The Beat - What the Folk! podcast
This episode features a bunch of new and recent releases. I think I'll try and do one of these at least once a month from here-on-in. First up are Minisnap, a band that started off as an offshoot of The Bats. They essentially are The Bats, but without Robert Scott. Featuring the songwriting and vocals of Kaye Woodward, Minisnap have previously released two EPs but now they have put out their debut album Bounce Around. The opening track New Broom features on the podcast and you can check out a video for the song on the video page.
White Swan Black Swan is based around the songs of Ben Howe (Black Swan) and Sonya Waters (White Swan). Their second EP Castle of Useless Junk was mixed in Nashville and is intended to be coupled with their first, self titled, EP to make up a overseas taster for an album release. Until recently it has only been available at WSBS gigs and on the band's Myspace page but it has now had a digital release and is available through Amplifier or Emusic. Orange and Brown is from Castle of Useless Junk, the song title describing the colour scheme of the Counting the Beat blog, the EP title describing the room where I record the podcast.
I've long been a fan of country outfit The Broken Heartbreakers. Their recent self titled album is an early contender for my best of the year list. Hot on the heels of that release comes a series of limited edition CD singles (sedingles?) available for sale only at Broken Heartbreaker gigs. The first of the singles is Wake Up Monday. Sign up to the Heartbreakers email list on their site to get advance warning of shows and be in quick to get one of the limited to 100 CDs.
Finally, a track from the second Ruby Suns album, Sea Lion. This is a great CD that is much less in debt to the sound of The Beach Boys than their self titled debut but retains complexity and whimsy in the songwriting and instrumentation. The main songwriter, Ryan McPhun is a very clever chap who seems destined for considerable success. A good taster of what the album offers is the song Tane Mahuta which is included in the podcast. I highly recommend you also watch the clip for this and two other Ruby Suns songs on the video page. They are recorded live on the streets of Paris by a great French video podcast site La Blogotheque.
Download the Counting The Beat - New & Recent Releases Feb 08 podcast
With judges including Tom Waits, Robert Smith (The Cure), Loretta Lynne and Frank Black (Pixies)and a US$25,000 first prize the International Songwriting Competition is a big deal. This year five NZ musicians have been selected as finalists.
Kiwi acts have a history of doing well in the contest. Moana Maniapoto won the 2003 competition with the song Moko, beating 11,170 other songs from 60 countries. You can find the song on her album Rua. The following year Auckland teenager Gin Wigmore (pictured) not only won the teen category with the song Angelfire (featured in the podcast) but also took out top prize with another song Hallelujah (mp3). Since then she's disappeared without trace which is a great shame given her talent.
Not content with having his 1969 song Nature selected as the best NZ song of all time, Wayne Mason entered the ISC in 2005 and reached the finals in the Americana section with the song Sense Got Out, the title track from his forthcoming third album.
This year's NZ finalists cover a range of genres. The podcast includes Mike Garner's Louisiana Hurricane (Americana), In the Gully (Pop) by Mahara Tocker and Daniel Maguire's song Bright White Teeth (Rock) performed by his band Mog. Although not normally my cup of tea the Mahara Tocker track was actually the stand out of the five to my ears. Also nominated are Radha Sahar in the Children's category and Hareruia Abraham in World Music.
You can do your bit to boost the profile of the NZ finalists by voting for them in the People's Choice category.
UPDATE: Mahara Tocker won the pop-rock category and Mike Garner took third place in the Americana section. Congratulations from Counting The Beat. Full results are available here.
Blog Only Exclusive: Radha Sahar - The Library Song
Download the Counting The Beat - International Songwriting Competition podcast
Ever since I had kids my record shopping has slowed down. But every once in a while I go on a bit of a splurge. A recent trip to Wellington gave me the opportunity to check out the record stores and pick up a couple of new releases and some I had missed from the last year or two. I always like going to Slow Boat Records in Wellington. While they may not have the same amount of stock as the big shops like Real Groovy, what they do have is well selected and the staff know their stuff. Shops like that are getting harder to find.
So what did I buy? Well first up was a surf guitar instrumental release from The Mysterious Tape Man called Tape Man Goes To Outer Space. I'm a fan of surf guitar and I love the 50s science fiction theme that runs through this EP. I selected Kaikoura U.F.O. for the podcast because I have a thing for songs named after NZ towns and locations (check out a place name special I recorded a while back). There's a TV news interview with The Tape Man on the video page and a good print interview here.
Next up is a song from a new EP by Let's Planet. They have been around since the the mid 1980s and have been sporadically releasing material since 1990. The Bounce E.P. remains true to Let's Planet form - catchy, engaging indie-pop.
Autographed Picture of Jesus is a standout track from the the self titled debut by The Warren Love Band. Love writes great country tunes and this 2006 album was nominated for the country music Tui in 2007. Warren was robbed, with the award going to a less than stellar release from The Topp Twins.
Hailing from Wellington, Hot Swiss Mistress make indie pop with an alternative guitar edge. The track I feature is from their EP the Falling Stars. You can also check out a nice live performance recorded for National Radio (stream).
And to finish, probably my best find, a new release from Kerretta. This is the kind of epic guitar soundscape I love so much. A Death in The Future is released on 7" single by Midium records. They're touring around the country with Jakob at the moment in support of the single and on the strength of this will be well worth seeing.
Download the Counting The Beat - Shopping Spree podcast