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Album Reviews Creativity born of activism

BOB ORAM reviews releases by Joe Solo, Ady Johnson, and Burning Ferns

Not On Our Watch
by Joe Solo
★★★★

NO SURPRISES, just creativity born of activism make this political music maestro's latest 13 songs superb. A guitar embellished with “This machine builds communities” is weaponised in the fight against the rich man making good men poor.

Solo's songs champion the need for a collective response yet the individuals who feature really stand out. Aided by the wonderful Rebeka Findlay on fiddle and vocals, his tale of a traumatised fireman working at Grenfell in Black Snowflake is heartbreaking, while JFK welcomes refugees in spite of Trump and Now's the Time to Rise and the title track are self-explanatory.

Solo pays tribute to Heather Heyer, murdered by a nazi in Charlottesville, MP Ellen Wilkinson in Land of Hope and Glory and dare-devil speedway rider and International Brigader Clem Beckett, killed during the Spanish civil war on Adelante. Truly unique, Solo's songs are lessons in the true meaning of solidarity.

joesolomusic.bandcamp.com

London Songs
by Ady Johnson
★★★★

LIKE his namesake Samuel, Ady Johnson is inspired by a city that if you’re tired of, you're tired of life. Acoustic but with a kick, this 11-song album opens with the beguiling, skiffle-based intimacy of Problems of Your Own and ends with the spectacular Bloodshot Eyes and the bluesy hoedown of Whale Song.

A glorious triumph of production by Gerry Diver, the album's full of bristling hooks and intelligent lyrics, with a ramshackle collection of musical influences melded together beautifully. Echoes of Waitsian storytelling, quintessential British pop, folk and Americana harmonies jostle alongside guitars, violin, mandolin, bodhran, washboard, trumpet, piano, pedal steel and percussion, with Johnson's emotional voice at core.

A stunning album sleeve showcases has Johnson relaxing in a street on an chair outside a derelict used furniture shop which, like his songs, says a lot about London.

adyjohnson.bandcamp.com

Public Mono
by Burning Ferns
(Country Mile Records)
★★★★

FOUR years after See Saw Seen, Newport's finest return with a second album that is a genuine step up into the premier league.

Great tunes, glorious guitar middle-eights and superb three-part harmonies make these songs crafted masterpieces worthy of anything by Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Squeeze, with the addition of a keyboard adds a new texture to the Ferns' sound.

Don't Get On Them Horses is an opening aural sucker punch before the blisteringly catchy single Bullet Train and what follows mixes classic pop with 1960s vibes, lots of invention and superb musicianship.

Closing track White Noise in a Dead Room is the perfect relaxed comedown from a roller-coaster ride back through musical time. Its lyrical refrain “Nothing really fills an empty space like you,” could be the album's secret title.

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