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CD reviews

Liz Green

Liz Green

Haul Away!

(Play It Again Sam)

Now signed to PIAS, also home to iconclastic Brooklyn singer-songwriter Joan As Policewoman, Manchester-based Liz Green releases a likeable second album which continues the work of her first, 2011's O Devotion!, by weaving folk and jazz influences into a suite of songs that wouldn't sound out of place in a Weimar Republic cabaret set. Or wouldn't if Green didn't deliver them in a singing accent defiantly rooted in England's north-west, or give them titles like Little I, an ode to Little Eye, an island off the coast of Merseyside.

Indeed water, coasts, rivers and seas are a constant theme - among the song titles are River Runs Deep, Where The River Don't Flow and Island Song - while the title track grabs images and metaphors from sources as varied as the Bible and Grimm's Fairy Tales. With a band of studio helpmates whose talents span brass, banjo, woodwind and violin, and with Green herself playing piano, there's a pleasing klezmer-meets-gipsy feel to it too.

Audio purists, meanwhile, will appreciate the fact that Haul Away! was recorded at London's all-analogue Toe Rag Studios, though don't look for any of that fabled analogue warmth in the lyrics: they're clever and literate, for sure, but their themes of peril, loss and alienation give Haul Away! a spookily-glacial feel.

Barry Didcock

Lucius

Wildewoman

(PIAS)

I'm not sure I get the echoes of the Roche sisters that Rolling Stone magazine claimed to hear when this Brooklyn band's debut album was released in the US at the tail end of last year. But then the venerable rock rag's endorsement as "the best band you may not have heard yet" was a bit NME-at-its-most-excitable too.

Nonetheless, Wildewoman is a good debut effort, or about half of it is. Lucius is built around Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who met at Berklee Schhol of Music in Boston and can certainly sing.

Their harmonies are nothing original, but they are very good, in a classic girl group sort of way, their voices blend beautifully and their male instrumental associates contribute some very fine guitar work.

When the songs are good, like the opening title track and the two that follow (Turn It Around and Go Home, with it's hookline "I don't need you"), it all works, but the set takes a downtempo dip before Monsters, with its beguiling retro vaudeville feel. I caught hint of Emiliana Torrini in Two Of Us On The Run and a few lyrics that seemed to owe a debt to Elvis Costello, but that might just be me.

Keith Bruce

The Amazing Snakeheads

Amphetamine Ballads

(Domino)

Domino Records (home to Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys) have high hopes for their new Glaswegian signing, The Amazing Snakeheads. No wonder: anyone who heard the band's attention-grabbing single Testifying Time - 67 seconds of back-to-basics rock'n'roll reverb - will be approaching this debut album like a smouldering firework stuck in a bottle. Something spectacular could light up the sky at any moment, but the whole thing is just as likely to explode suddenly in your face.

Singer Dale Barclay seems to have channelled the spirit of a particularly psychotic Alex Harvey in his vocal delivery, sounding like he's gargling the broken glass of a Buckfast bottle with rough language to match. The songs themselves tend to follow in the garage rock footsteps of The Cramps with titles to match (I'm A Vampire, Nighttime, Swamp Song), but add a 1970s slasher menace to the 1950s comic-book horror - particularly if the "garage" in question is a lock-up in an edgy part of town with used syringes on the rubble outside and "Tongs" graffiti on the walls. It's a case of songwriting to the minimum, performance style to the maximum. I'm not sure this album will have legs in the long run, but the band is currently top of my must-see-live list.

Alan Morrison

Two Wings

A Wake

(Tin Angel)

Although I'd rather like her to sing at mine, if she's free, Hanna Tuulikki's wonderful voice never puts me in mind of a wake at all. It is rather too light, lovely and joyful for that.

I think I first heard her singing Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights as part of a Glasgow art project, and the comparisons with the revivified Ms Bush are still there, not just in her vocal contribution but in the often folk-inspired but prog-ishly arranged songs that she and Ben Reynolds create as Two Wings.

This follow up to the duo's highly praised Love's Spring adds vocals by Lucy Duncombe, Owen Curtis Williams on drums and bassist Kenneth Wilson to a make a band that some have likened to Fleetwood Mac in their most successful, Rumours-era incarnation.

The comparison does give an idea of the eclectic mix of styles they embrace, from the folkie stomp of We Can Show You More through to the impossibly lovely ballad Stranger, which should be a hit for this lot before someone else approporiates it.

The arrangements are very colourful, with flute and brass as well as Reynolds's excellent guitar work, and if it reaches enough ears, this could be a very successful album indeed.

Keith Bruce

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